Clark bringing new perspective to Illinois women’s tennis

By Emma McGowen

After serving an eight-month stint as an assistant coach for the Illinois women’s tennis team, Evan Clark was named the interim head coach for the 2015-16 season.

Prior to coming to Illinois, Clark was the head coach for the University of North Carolina-Wilmington women’s tennis team for two years, where he had a 31-11 record. During his first year with the Illini, Clark helped the team to a 14-10 record.

In his new position, Clark said he hopes to bring a lot of energy, experience and knowledge about the strategic side of the game to the program.

“We really need to understand how to play your strengths to someone’s weaknesses,” Clark said. “It’s not really a team sport; you’ve got six individuals at a time so you really have to build up each individual’s strengths. So we’re going to do a lot of individual work, which will probably be something different than they’ve had in the past.”

The team will kick off its season at the Puerto Rico Invitational on Sept. 25. In preparation, Clark plans on having the team work on sets, singles and doubles.

“My philosophy is when you make the individual better, you make the team better,” Clark said.

Tennis in different places

Some athletes are lucky enough to always have access to some sort of facility and people to practice with; others aren’t so lucky. During the school year, the men’s and women’s tennis teams have the Atkins Tennis Center they can utilize. But when school’s not in session, finding a place to continue to hone their skills can be hard for athletes.

Freshman Jaclyn Switkes, from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, didn’t have any problems finding a court to play on when she was at home, but finding someone to play with was another story.

“You’d think Florida has a lot of tennis players,” Switkes said, “But that’s South Florida. Where I live there aren’t a lot of people to play with.”

Because tennis wasn’t as popular in her area growing up, in order for Switkes to continue to advance her playing ability, she had to travel to academies.

On the other hand, senior Emily Barretta, who’s from the suburbs of Chicago, never had any issues finding someone to play with. In fact, she grew up playing with and against some of her current teammates, like junior Alexis Casati.

International players

This year, the Illinois women’s tennis team has three international students on its roster, freshman Daniela Pedraza Novak from Bogota, Colombia; sophomore Jade Hilton from Mississauga, Ontario; and junior Louise Kwong from Toronto, Ontario.

Kwong notes that playing tennis in Canada is pretty similar to playing it in Illinois, but the intensity increases due to college tournaments.

In Canada, if a player wants to continue past junior tennis, because scholarships aren’t given, most players will come down to the U.S. to play in college.

One similarity both players noticed was that in the U.S., tennis is more of a team effort.

“It’s so much more intense,” Kwong said. “It’s a bigger community and more popular, but the competition is just as tough.”

Novak noted that you represent yourself in Columbia, but in the U.S., you represent your school.

“You need to be able to recognize what you’re able to do as a part of a team and what you’re not able to do,” she said. “Here you have to remember that everything you do has a repercussion on the team … You have to cheer up your teammates and be positive at all times.”

With the team leaving for the season opener in Puerto Rico tomorrow, Novak said she doesn’t find herself nervous for her first meet at all.

“Being a freshman, you just have to play and show yourself and just go out there and enjoy everything you do.”

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