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New beginnings First-year head coaches take over tennis program

New colors and uniforms are not the only noticeable change for UTRGV tennis. Both teams also enter the 2015-16 season with new head coaches.

Stephanie Wooten-Quijada, women’s head coach, and Brett Bernstein, men’s head coach, were hired within a month of each other. Wooten-Quijada’s hiring came on Aug. 13, followed by Bernstein’s on Sept. 3. The fall season is underway for both squads as they all adjust to the changes.WOMEN Athletics Director Chris King announced Wooten-Quijada’s hiring in mid-August.

WOMEN

“Most importantly [Wooten-Quijada] showed great enthusiasm and excitement for becoming head coach of the UTRGV women’s program,” King said in the August news release. “Her energy and passion for college tennis was evident from the start of the search process.”

Wooten-Quijada nearly echoed the statement at practice last week when asked about her reaction to getting hired.

“When I got the interview for this job, I was really excited about the opportunity, I really wanted that job,” said Wooten-Quijada, the four-year Purdue player who finished sixth in the school’s all-time doubles wins rankings. “That excitement never went away. I think the girls feel the same way about the opportunity to be a part of something, in being the first UTRGV team.”

Natasha Minc, a sophomore player from France, said the transition has been welcomed.

“It’s only my second semester here but I feel old,” said Minc, the international student-athlete added to the team in December 2014. “I think that the communication with the coach is good, we can talk to her easily. I’m excited for the upcoming season.”

The team has competed in only one tournament so far, the Marco & Co. Catering Islander in Corpus Christi. Dominique Ibarra won her first round match against UTSA’s Alena Schichkova 6-2, 6-2. In doubles, Ibarra and Dominique Esparza defeated UTSA’s Caitlyn Resendiz and UT Arlington’s Carla Cerdan 8-0.

Wooten-Quijada explained the fall season is prime for individual growth of her players.

“To me, the fall season is for individual work and the spring is when the team results begin to weigh more heavily,” the Crandall, Texas, native said. “Right now we are identifying leaders and everyone is trying to help each other develop their game.”

The women will next have their chance to develop that game during Texas State Play Day on Oct. 17 in San Marcos.

MEN

Men’s Head Coach Bernstein was a player for UT Pan American men’s tennis team from 2006-10; from 2007 until his graduation, he also served as team captain. Bernstein and his brother Beau competed as a doubles pair that went 15-6 in Bernstein’s senior season.

He said coming back to his alma mater was always something he considered.

“When I was at [Brigham Young University] and [University of North Carolina]-Greensboro I was asked, ‘If your alumni school asked you to come back, would you?’ And my answer was always, ‘Absolutely,’” the former 4.0 student-athlete said. “I knew I just had to put in the work as an assistant first.”

The new head coach comes from a year at BYU and two at UNC-Greensboro but a return to the Lone Star State is something he’s ready for.

“I was in Europe, with BYU, when I got the call and job offer,” Bernstein said. “I was extremely excited for the opportunity. I had been away for a while but I’m a Texas guy. I love my Whataburger and H-E-B and I’m really excited to help lead this program. I want to be the consistent coach that I never had when I was a player.”

Elliot Johnstone, a sophomore on the team, spoke on the quick transition from losing a coach late in the summer to the new leadership Bernstein brings.

“Yeah, for a little bit, we had to get out there alone and motivate ourselves before [Bernstein] was officially hired,” the Australian second-year player said. “But it’s good to have someone who has been through the program before. You can tell he wants it bad, for this team to be strong.”

The 6-foot-1-inch player mentioned mentoring newcomers as part of his duties, despite only being a sophomore. “We’ve helped them with everything, from getting to classes … to tennis,” he said. “It’s a good way to mesh with the new players early.”

The men’s team has competed in two events so far this season, highlighted by a complete sweep of Our Lady of the Lake University in singles and doubles play Sept. 19 during the St. Mary’s Quad.

In their first competition of the season on Sept. 11 and 12, the doubles team of Juan Cruz Soria and Koby Jansen reached the main draw final of the Marco & Co. Catering Islander Open. Their 8-7 loss came at the hands of the University of the Incarnate Word.

The men’s packed fall schedule continues this weekend in Tulsa, Okla., for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Men’s All-

American Championship.

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