|Wesleyan tennis coach Ken Alrutz, right, teaches his son, Graham, a few techniques on the Wesleyan tennis courts Aug. 24.|
| Q: Ken, you will be entering your third year as the mens and womens head tennis coach. What attracted you to Wesleyan?
A: When my wife and I contemplated a move, I decided I wanted to coach both women and men, to work at an academically distinguished school, and to finish my career at a small institution similar to the place where I began my professional life.
Q: What months does the tennis season span? When do you begin NESCAC Championship playoffs?
A: Wesleyans tennis season commences the first day of classes in the fall, runs through the New England Womens Invitational Tournament in late October. It begins again on February 15, and concludes with the NESCAC tournament the final weekend of April. Of course, the NCAA championship tournament takes a month longer, and my teams plan to qualify for that event as well.
Q: Who are your leading student-athletes? Do they play other sports as well?
A: Last season, six first-year women played significant roles on the team that posted an 11-4 record: Rachael Ghorbani 09, Ania Preneta 09, Madalina Ursu 09, Alexandra Sirois 09, Emily Fish 09 and Lizzie Collector 09. They, along with Tori Santoro 07, who spent last spring in Paris, will form the nucleus of the squad, though I expect important contributions from newcomers Anika Fischer 10, Meredith Holmes 10, and Casey Simchik 10, who will also be a member of the squash team.
Among the starting men returning from the team that went 10-5 are Jack Rooney 07, Tallen Todorovich 07, Michael Frank 08, Pauri Pandian 08, Matthew OConnell 09, Alejandro Alvarado 09, and Paul Gerdes 09. Joining them and their teammates are two tremendous first years: George Pritzker 10 and Miles Krieger 10.
Q: Where were you coaching prior to Wesleyan?
A: Immediately before joining the Wesleyan staff, I served as the head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Miami University-Hamilton for three years, while also acting as a tennis professional at the Riverside Racquet Club in Hamilton, Ohio. I was the head men’s tennis coach at NCAA Division I Miami University in Oxford, Ohio from 1996 to 1999, and began my head coaching career at NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute from 1987 until 1996.
Q: What were some of your biggest achievements at these schools?
A: At Miami-Hamilton, my womens and mens teams won Ohio Regional Campus Conference Championships in 2002 and 2004. I led Miami University in Oxford to the Mid-American Conference mens title in 1997. My coaching colleagues honored me with the conferences Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1999, and the Midwest section of the United States Professional Tennis Association, of which I am a certified member, named me Team Coach of the Year a few months later. During the spring of 1990, VMI honored me with the Institutes Distinguished Coaching Award; in 1992, I received the Southern Conferences Tennis Coach-of-the-Year Award as well as the Mid-Atlantic Professional Tennis Associations Collegiate Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1995. I am the first coach of any sport in VMIs long athletic history to win one hundred contests, and my Division I squads at VMI and Miami saw twelve straight winning seasons.
Q: What is your overall coaching record?
A: My cumulative coaching record stands at 199-116, or 63 percent. More important than anything else, though, all of my teams boast a 100 percent graduation rate.
Q: You received a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1994 from the Virginia Military Institute and Honored Professor Awards from 2000-04 from Miami’s Associated Student Government. What were you teaching?
A: At VMI and Miami, I taught English full time in addition to coaching tennis. While my ostensible specialty is Victorian literature, I especially enjoy offering various courses in prose fiction, including Modern and Contemporary American Novels, Nineteenth-Century British Novel and International Short Fiction. In fact, I earlier taught English at Ripon and Lynchburg Colleges; at the former, I was also a volunteer English professor in the Wisconsin prison system.
Q: Where did you go to college and what are your degrees in?
A: I earned my undergraduate degree in English education at California State College, which I attended on a tennis scholarship, and did my graduate work in English at the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation subject was the Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley.
Q: For the non-tennis audience, can you what skills are needed to be a tennis player, and can anyone basically do this?
A: Tennis is an attractive spectator and participatory sport for a number of reasons. Playing the game at a high level demands keen hand-eye coordination, fast reflexes, excellent physical conditioning, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. One of the most appealing aspects of tennis for the non-professional is the many levels of the game; that is, no matter players ages or ability levels, they can find suitable practice partners or opponents.
Q: Is teaching the sport difficult?
A: I have given thousands of hours of tennis lessons in the past 26 years, and I guarantee that I can teach anyone to have fun with the game. When do you want to do a lesson?
Q: What classes do you teach as an adjunct professor?
A: I teach beginning and intermediate tennis courses here. My students are eager to learn, to improve their skills, so we have a great time.
Q: You have been on the Prince advisory staff for 18 years? What is involved in this?
A: My relationship with Prince has been a very happy one. Throughout the year, Prince sponsors clinics at tournament sites. Many times, I have worked these events with such world-ranked players as Michael Chang, Guillermo Coria, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Jan-Michael Gambell, Xavier Malisse and Vince Spadea.
Q: Have you coached anyone who went on to be a famous tennis star?
A: Quite a few of my collegiate players have broken into the touring professional ranks. I am especially proud of coaching two young men while they played Davis Cup for their countries: Tunisia and the Bahamas. All fans recognize the four major tournamentsThe Australian, the French, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Openbut Davis Cup, the international team competition for men, and the womens Federation Cup, strike me as the most significant events of the tennis calendar. Being selected to play for ones country transcends all other tennis accomplishments.
Q: What are your other interests?
A: I still follow my hometown Pirates and Steelers, though I am more interested in attending athletic contests at Wesleyan and supporting my colleagues efforts.
Q: Tell me about your family. Any young tennis players?
A: My wife, Kellylee, and I will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on September 5. She is a classical pianist, a woman of remarkable talents and the person who gives my life meaning. Our daughter, Rikki, attended a university in Paris and is now doing graduate work at Harvard. In addition to being a tremendous teacher and tennis playershe won a major tournament at Forest Hills, the former site of the U.S. Open, last summershe speaks seven languages and is a professional interpreter. Our 11-year-old son, Graham, lives for art and tennis. He inherited his mothers artistic ability, and he is an extremely accomplished tennis player, who dreams of playing on the international circuit in a few years.
|By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor|