The 2015 season was seen as a year with nowhere to go but up for Women’s Tennis. Sitting at the end of last season in 11th place, the team was due for a change.
Alongside the departure of Coach Miriam Skrade, the outlook on future events was quite bleak. With all of this pressure being placed on his back, new Head Coach Lawrence Eyre was hired with no small task and did not know what to expect.
“Coming from Grinnell College, I had played against many of these [Knox] players before, but I still had no expectations coming into the team,” Eyre said. “I was happy to find that they had enthusiasm and talent that we could build on.”
Eyre has accumulated many awards over his lengthy career, including the 2009 United States Professional Tennis Association National High School Coach of the Year, Iowa Tennis Association Coach of the Year in 2000 , USPTA Missouri Valley Division High School Coach of the Year in 1993 and 2008, and was recently inducted into the Iowa Hall of Pride in Des Moines, Iowa.
Building off these accolades seems to be exactly what Eyre was able to do, moving the Prairie Fire from 11th place to their current eighth.
While this still places the team in a losing position, only serving as a means of improvement rather than success, Eyre is confident that the tables are turning in their favor.
“We have a lot of factors that play into our improvement this year, but the most significant factor in my mind is the overhaul of young players. Our current seniors did a great job of helping mold these players while they still have time to advance, and that to me is key,” he said.
Senior Maggie St. Clair is part of that senior leadership and thinks in congruent terms with her coach.
“We had a lot of new factors going into this season,” St. Clair said. “Having a team of over half freshmen was different for us, but I think the season went well. Finishing in eighth is the best season we have had in over a decade and that speaks for itself.”
St. Clair expressed much admiration for former coach Skrade. Switching to a new coach this season was no small task for the returning senior. She spoke to the difficulty of adjustment for herself and the team.
“It was tough for us to transition from the coaching style of Miriam to Coach Eyre, but his form of coaching and perspective on how to teach us was better for a team with so many young players. He needs to continue to recruit in such a manner that we will have a fresh set of players next year, and I think that can only be beneficial.”
New coaching is something the team has had to cope with much in recent years, filtering through four different coaches in five years. This has created a poorly structured foundation on which to build a team. With no consistency in coaching traits, the team has failed to gain momentum.
Without hesitation, Eyre made it quite apparent that this position wasn’t simply another link in a chain, but rather a place to finish his career strongly.
“I was fortunate that Knox was willing to take a chance on an old guy like myself,” said Eyre, “It doesn’t happen much in sports, even in Division III. Knox has a vision that goes beyond the latest, greatest coach. I don’t view Knox as a stepping stone, I view it as a capstone.”
With records rising and momentum starting to build for the team, it’s apparent that things are going in the right direction. Whether the success will build into something great is yet to be seen.
Coaches must stay committed and players need to remain enthusiastic. Eighth place isn’t normally a position that would be boasted about within the confines of an athletic department, but with little recent success, the team is sitting in a position to either rise or fall. Only time will tell.