April 1, 2011
By Davis Simpson - Article Appears in March 21 edition of Orange: The Experience
Success can be measured in many different ways. In college athletics, though, success is often measured by consistency. The Clemson women's tennis program has been nothing but consistent throughout not only the past decade, but throughout its entire history. Since the program began in 1975, Tiger teams have won nine ACC Championships and earned 18 NCAA Tournament bids. Twenty-one different All-Americans have been a part of the Tiger program. Tiger teams have finished with a top-25 ranking 24 times and the program's most recent accomplishment boasts four straight NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearances. Despite all these accolades, the Tigers' most impressive performances have come in the past decade.
Since 2002, the women's tennis team has compiled 58 wins over top-25 teams. They have spent 78 weeks in the top 15 in the polls. In 2004, the Tigers won the ACC regular season title and ACC Tournament title. In 2007, they again took the ACC regular season title and then in 2008, they brought home another ACC Tournament title. The Tigers have also garnered 21 All-ACC Honors since 2002. The Tigers have made six Sweet Sixteen appearances, including four straight, and two Final Four appearances in 2004 and 2005. In addition, Ani Mijacika was named ACC Freshman-of-the-Year in 2007 and then ACC Player-of-the-Year in 2009. Mijacika is not the school's only ACC Player-of-the-Year since 2002, though.
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In 2004, Julie Coin won ACC Player-of-the-Year and led the Tigers to an ACC Championship and their first-ever Final Four appearance. During her time at Clemson, Coin compiled a 101-20 singles record, 90-27 doubles record and was ranked as high as No. 2 in singles and No. 10 in doubles in the final polls. Not to mention, Coin received five All-America honors as a Tiger. To her, playing at Clemson was a special experience that prepared her for a professional career.
"For me, it was an honor to play at Clemson," Coin said. "It was really my time at Clemson that helped me become a professional tennis player."
Coin enjoyed her time at Clemson and said she still misses it.
"I kind of miss it sometimes because I had so much fun playing in college," she said. "At the professional level, it's so much harder because everyone is your opponent and your enemy. At Clemson, though, you were on a team and had the team spirit and the Tiger spirit and that's what made it so fun."
Coin credits her high level of success at the collegiate level to coaching and learning to be mentally tough.
"The coaches made me practice hard," she said, "but I really worked with Nancy (Harris) on the mental part of the game. She really worked with me on being more positive and believing in myself and I think that's what helped me the most."
Coin recently visited the current team and said she was excited to see their high level of play.
"I am really happy that the team now is playing well and has kept the momentum going," Coin said. "I think they might even be playing better than the team was before, when I was here."
Coin graduated in 2004 with a degree in mathematics. In 2008, as a professional, Coin defeated the top-ranked player in the world, Ana Ivanovic, at the U.S. Open. At the time, Coin was ranked 118th and was playing in her first ever Grand Slam. Before the match, though, Coin had considered giving up her professional career.
"It felt like a big surprise," she said. "I told my parents that if I don't play that well then maybe I will stop playing. Then I qualified for the U.S Open and thought that maybe I could play well. Then I won one round and had to play the top-ranked player. I just felt lucky to be there and kind of forgot about playing No. 1."
Clemson women's tennis head coach Nancy Harris attended that match and says that is still one of the most memorable moments of her coaching career.
"I was in the stands for that match and it is definitely one of my greatest memories and is certainly imprinted on my mind," Harris said.
Harris has coached many great players during her time at Clemson, including Coin, and is the major reason for the success of the women's tennis program. This season marks Harris' 14th as the head coach of the Clemson women's tennis team. In the past decade, her teams have a combined for a 180-76 (.703) overall record. They have been nationally ranked and made an NCAA Tournament appearance every year since 2002 under her guidance.
In addition to all of the other honors mentioned, Harris has coached seven All-Americans, all in last eight years. During her tenure, the Tigers have excelled not only on the tennis court but in the classroom as well. There have been no less than three women's tennis players on the honor roll every year in the last decade and every year since Harris became the head coach in 1998. All of this success has come from a simple coaching philosophy.
"We are trying to help these athletes to be the best that they can be," Harris stated. "We never ask them to win, we just ask them to be the best that they can be not only on the court, but academically as well, and we never set limitations on that."
In any sport, it is tough maintain the same of level of success year after year. However, Harris managed to get this Tiger program to do just that.
"It's about creating a culture of stability," Harris said. "We try to mirror the image of what I believe Clemson University is all about, and to me, that is a family. I have never met a Clemson graduate that I talked to that didn't love Clemson and want to come back and continue to be a part of this family."
Part of the reason for her coming to Clemson and having such success here has been her upbringing and her relationship with her family, which has translated into close relationships with her Clemson family as well.
"I was always loved unconditional, whether I won or lost," Harris said. "I was always encouraged and cared for. I think that is a great thing about Clemson as well. Our student-athletes know that we care about them more than just how they perform in the classroom or how they perform on the court. I think that's why they enjoy coming back and why they enjoy being a part of this team."
Throughout her tenure, Harris has been a part of many great tennis moments. She says it is hard, though, for her to pick out just one moment as her favorite.
"I think there are so many great memories and moments. I think most people think I would remember certain victories or moments of triumph. What I remember, though, are the players. I can recall every one of my players and their legacies while at Clemson," Harris said.
The success of the Clemson women's tennis team does not look to end anytime soon. The 2011 team is again ranked among the top 15 teams in the country, with three ranked singles players and the No. 3 ranked doubles pair in the country. Hopefully, the women's tennis team can follow this decade of excellence with another.