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Last year as an athlete with the Quakers, Nikola Kocovic was one of the top men’s tennis players.

Photo: Hunter Martin

Some habits die hard. Few people understand this oft-quoted cliche better than Nikola Kocovic.

The former Penn men’s tennis captain, who graduated from the College last year, is back with the program as an assistant coach for the 2014-15 season.

Kocovic will assist head coach David Geatz in a variety of tasks, including general coaching during matches and practice as well as in recruiting.

For Kocovic, who played tennis competitively throughout his four years at Penn as well as in high school, continuing his career in tennis was the natural choice.

“I wanted to find something that would allow me to stay involved with tennis,” Kocovic, who is currently in a gap year before attending medical school, said.

As an assistant, having played so recently for the team brings its fair share of advantages.

“I get to spend another year with a really good group of guys led by an amazing head coach,” he explained. “A lot of these guys are good friends of mine.”

To the other players, Kocovic will no longer be a teammate, but a coach. He believes his unique position can aid the team’s training practices.

“I know all the things that they try to get away with,” he said.

Kocovic believes his three years of experience playing under Geatz will allow him to complement the head coach effectively. It gives him an opportunity to bring an alternative style of coaching to the team.

In his own career at Penn, Kocovic was a leading player and part of a team which struggled in fierce Ivy League play, but which also showed a lot of resilience and strength. In the 2013-14 season, notably, he was a part of a successful Red and Blue effort to beat rival Princeton for the first time since 2007.

Given his recent history with the team, Kocovic is keenly aware of the challenges facing it.

“No victories will be handed over to [us],” he said, referring to the high level of the Ivy League teams.

Last year, the team finished 2-5 in Ivy play, eclipsing only Yale and Brown.

One of the challenges this season, Kocovic notes, is the health of the players, a group that was plagued by injury last season. This is in addition to the incessant need to strike a balance between the calling of the court on one hand and the classroom on the other.

To Kocovic, however, there is cause for optimism.

“The future is really bright,” he assessed.

He praised the current players, but also called attention to some important developments instigated by the head coach.

He noted how Geatz has managed to better the team during his years as a coach by improving the team culture, recruiting and scheduling, as well as fundraising. With these changes in mind, Kocovic understands the need for looking at the team’s development in the long-term.

“The key is patience,” he noted.

Kocovic recognizes that much of the period he played for the team was transitional in nature, and the potential of the team was not necessarily reflected in its results.

Now, as he sees it, is the time for the team to rise to the level it is capable of performing at.

“[We] have nowhere to go but up.”

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