Head coach Jeff Clark is about to enter the eighth year of his second stint at UTC.
Courtesy: Dale Rutemeyer
Catching Up with Jeff Clark

GoMocs.com is running a summer-long series of Q&As with each of the Chattanooga Mocs’ 12 head coaches.  This week’s feature focuses on women’s tennis head coach Jeff Clark. 

Clark is about to enter the eighth year of his second stint as the head coach of the women’s tennis program.  He guided the team from 1999-01 before returning for the 2007-08 season.

The Mocs went 18-5 for the second year in a row in 2014.  They finished third in the SoCon with a 7-2 league tally and had some impressive wins throughout the season.  They defeated two NCAA Tournament teams in Elon and Murray State, and all five of their losses were to teams listed in the final ITA team rankings. 

With eight of nine players returning, Coach Clark is enthusiastic about the 2014-15 campaign and recently sat down to give an update on all of the things going on with the program in the summer months. 

How important are the summer months when it comes to preparing and making improvements for the upcoming season?
“The summer is critical.  Obviously, when the season ends we like for them to rest their bodies for a couple of weeks.  It has been a long season and they need that rest.  By the middle of May, it is time to get back in the swing of things a little bit.  Our strength and conditioning program is critical.  It is a time when you can do a little bit more heavy lifting that maybe you weren’t able to do during the season. 

“We’ve got a handful of girls who are in town, either in summer school or working, and they have been working out regularly with the strength and conditioning staff.  That was such a great part of our success this year, and it is great that the players can spend this time in the weight room.  I am also able to work with the kids at their request.  We have gotten some good court time as well.

“The summer is also a great time to get in some competition.  Kayla Jones is the defending doubles champion at the TVOC coming up at Manker Patten.  I am sure most of our team that is in town or living nearby will play in that event.  You also have the ITA Summer Circuit in July and there are a handful of tournaments that are within a 2-3 hour drive of Chattanooga, so there are some opportunities there. 

“If you look at our team, we continue to get better each year, but we need to continue that arc.  In order to do that, our kids have got to take the summer seriously.” 

You’ve been 18-5 the last two years and have established the Mocs as one of the top teams in the Southern Conference.  What is it going to take to get over the hump and win a SoCon Championship?
If you look at our year, we were 18-5.  All five of our losses were to ranked teams.  When you go down the list, the first really good win of the year was Murray State.  Murray State ended up winning the OVC and went to the NCAAs.  At Middle Tennessee, another solid win.  UAB, we handled them pretty convincingly at home.  We beat the team in Elon that ended up representing our conference at the NCAA Tournament. 

“There were a lot of things we did this year that we had not done in the past.  We finished third in the regular season in the conference.  We had seven conference wins.  We beat UNCG who we had not beaten in a while.  Really, the way I look at it is, are we making progress and is that progress measurable?   I look at it and say, ‘Yeah, the team was better.’ 

“The margins were pretty close.  I don’t think there is anything magical we need to do.  We just need to keep competing.  If we are in the hunt to win it all, that is a good place to be.  When there are several teams that can win it, it will really come down to who can get hot over three days.” 

Another interesting thing you did recently was introduce a former mentor who was inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame.  Can you elaborate on that experience?
The coach for whom I worked at Ole Miss – Billy Chadwick – was inducted into the ITA Hall of Fame in Athens, Ga., in May.  They always do the inductions in conjunction with the NCAA Tournament.  This is his last year at Ole Miss, and I had the honor of introducing him at the induction banquet. 

“It was awesome.  I think they inducted three coaches, three players and one contributor.  I got to be around a lot of successful people within college tennis and it was great to be with Coach Chadwick again.  He has been one of the top college coaches for a long, long time.  Anytime you are around tennis folks who have had a lot of success, you feel like you are gaining some knowledge.” 

How much of the summer months is spent recruiting and evaluating your overall program?
“First off, recruiting is big.  We have three seniors coming up and two of them are starters.  We have some shoes to fill for the Fall of 2015.  Right now, I am doing a lot of evaluating of prospects.

“Sometimes, I will take day trips to go evaluate someone, or it might be someone sending me a video, or it might be me going through some of the different ranking lists and identifying potential prospects. 

“I will take several recruiting trips.  I already have taken some in May and I will take a few in June and a few in July.  In addition, we set up some unofficial visits for players as their schedules allow.  I have to be available to show them our facilities and our campus. 

“A lot of time in the summer is assessing our program and looking at – not just what are our player needs, but also do we need more fundraising, assessing facilities, looking at equipment needs, looking at uniform needs.” 

Talk about the team coming back and what you look forward to next season?
“We have eight of nine players returning off a team that had a very good year.  Kayla Jones was one of the top three players in the conference.  Kaylene Chadwell is going to be one of our seniors and made first team all-conference in doubles.  She has been a rock at No. 2 singles for three years. 

“You’ve got Kelsey Coots who made second team all-conference for the second year in a row.  CC Mulyadi made great progress this year and ends up making second team all-conference doubles.  We had a couple of girls who played No. 6 in Storie and Polk and had some success.  I like what we have coming back.

“(Incoming freshman) Samantha Caswell is a big-time player.  She is expected to contribute in singles and doubles and she will.  She is a competitor.

“Any time you can return four starters or more, I think it bodes well for the following season.  That is what you have to do to stay good.  You have to have key pieces returning, but then you also have to have good players coming in to augment that.  I think we do.”

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