With new courts and a new coach, Occidental’s tennis teams return strong

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The newly-renovated tennis courts on lower campus at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Friday, Nov. 15, 2019. Sarah Hofmann/The Occidental

Occidental’s men’s and women’s tennis teams played Whittier College April 2, with both teams taking the win home at Occidental’s McKinnon Family Tennis Center under new coach Tim Gray. The win came with the scores of 5-4 for the men’s team and 6-3 for the women’s team, marking a strong point in Occidental tennis’ first spring season since 2019.

Assistant Athletic Director for Operations and Facilities Cori Vallembois said the new tennis center was built in 2019 — shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic sent students home — and as a result, the teams were not able to play a season on the courts until this year. According to Vallembois, the remodel included the construction of two additional courts alongside the original four, a new viewing pavilion and several new technologies to allow live-streaming and virtual viewing of matches.

According to Vallembois, the original tennis courts were built in the 1970s on top of the Facilities Management building.

“They were resurfaced in 2009, and again during the recent work when the two new courts were added,” Vallembois said via email. “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this current season is the first season that Oxy Tennis has been able to use the courts in any official capacity.”

Xavier Campbell (senior), who has played tennis every season they have been at Occidental, is one of the two captains for the women’s team.

“I’m very appreciative to be able to play on the new courts with the viewing center in my time at Oxy,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, having more home matches has contributed to higher team morale. In addition, the new viewing center allows more people to come and watch.

“[The remodel] allows us to have more home matches, which is really good for the general academic performance of the team, and also we’ll all go get dinner after a home match, which we can’t really do if it’s away,” Campbell said.

Tennis matches consist of three doubles games and six singles games. The singles games are typically played all at once, which, prior to the construction of the two new courts, was impossible at Occidental. Tilly Dépéry (sophomore), another member of the women’s tennis team, said she knows that the new courts provide a boost.

“For games, you need six courts at least, so I know that made it better, more efficient,” Dépéry said. “Even though I’ve never played on the old courts, I’d say new courts in general are always better.”

Men’s and women’s tennis coach Tim Gray, who coached at Auburn University and Brown University before coming to Occidental in December 2021, said the center has made it easier for guests to view matches from the new viewing pavilion. While Gray has only been coaching for a few months, he said he appreciates the new facilities and what they bring to the campus community.

“Aside from just adding the two courts, we have the pavilion in the middle, we hope in the future to host some events in the facility, whether it’s charity events, clinics for underprivileged kids, that sort of thing,” Gray said.

According to Gray, streaming services will be available soon for parents and prospective athletes to watch matches live at home. The streaming service will alows non-local parents to see their students’ games, according to Campbell and Gray.

“It allows people to tune in online and watch us play, which is great because most of us don’t have parents that are close enough by to come see us,” Campbell said.

Nicholas Solimene (sophomore), a member of the men’s team, said Gray was a welcome addition after the previous coach quit unexpectedly.

“It’s been cool to finally have some real leadership outside of our assistant coaches, who are great,” Solimene said. “He expects a lot from us, he’s seen some pretty good tennis.”

Campbell also said despite his busy schedule, the new coach has done a good job navigating the transition.

“We’re excited to have him, and coaching two teams with conflicting schedules is physically and emotionally exhausting, and I think he handles it pretty well,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell and Solimene, the athletes of the tennis program are supportive of each other, and both the men’s and women’s teams are committed to establishing a sense of community.

“After practice, we ran all the way up to Fiji … and at the end we talked about our feelings, checked in with each other and tried to establish personal and team goals coming into the semester,” Solimene said.

Campbell said the tennis team is an encouraging space that is friendly and open to all team members.

“I think the tennis team is really great at creating that supportive environment,” Campbell said. “I’d like to think that we’ve also created a very welcoming and understanding and loving space.”

As far as the future goes for the team, Campbell and Solimene have several hopes for what the team will accomplish and what they’d like to continue.

“I would love for us to beat Claremont. Oxy in my time has never been number one in the SCIAC,” Campbell said.

According to Solimene, he is looking forward to finding a sense of regularity on the team.

“I’m just excited for some stability, because having Tim come on so late we weren’t able to condition throughout our first semester,” Solimene said. “It’ll be nice to have more stability throughout our season, less uncertainty, more time to prepare.”