Loyola’s tennis team has come a long way

ALEX DAVIS Staff Writer

Starting in fall 1993, Loyola’s tennis team was an experiment. The team, which was co-ed, ran until 1997 when it was put on hiatus. Loyola revived the women’s team in 2009 and the men’s team in 2010.

Michael Graves, A’97, was an engineering freshman when he joined the first team. According to Graves, the athletic department recruited players by scanning their entrance applications and contacting students who had mentioned playing tennis.

Travis Puterbaugh, A’98, was The Maroon’s tennis beat reporter in 1994 and sports editor from 1995 to 1996. Puterbaugh played in part of 1994 but decided to just be a spectator when he wanted to write for the paper. He said that although he enjoyed playing on the team, he didn’t think he would have been called back had he tried out for a different team.

“I’d be laughed out at any other school,” he said.

At the beginning, the university was not well prepared for having a functional tennis team. In addition to practicing in the Rec Plex with carpeted floors, Graves said the team also used Tulane University’s home courts and the Atkinson-Stern Tennis Center on Loyola Avenue and S. Saratoga Street.

“It was a new program going up against great programs,” Puterbaugh said.

The team participated in their first tournament on March 3, 1994 at Cross Gates Racquet Club in Slidell.

Head coach Jim Hunter helped the team improve and become more competitive. According to The Maroon archives, Hunter had coached teams in the top 25 percent of NCAA Division I tennis. Coach Hunter left the school in 1997 and later became head coach for University of New Orleans until Hurricane Katrina, Southeastern Louisiana University and Nicholls State University until his retirement in 2010. In 2011, members of the Nicholls State University Alumni Federation granted Hunter the title of honorary alumnus.

Graves said he “cannot say enough good things” about Hunter. Under his instruction, Graves said he went from playing the sixth-best singles player his freshman year to being the best by the time he graduated.

“You just wanted to do whatever he told you to because you knew he would make you better if you followed his guidance,” Graves said. “He did not have to scream or shout; you did it because he made you want to do it.”

The women’s tennis team was reinstated in 2009 under coach Zubin Engineer, with the men’s team following in 2010. Engineer said Loyola brought back the two teams because the school needed more sports to keep their conference membership.

Despite having graduated, former players said they are optimistic about the team’s future. “There’s no reason it couldn’t be what it was in the mid-90s,” Puterbaugh said.

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