The Penn men's tennis squad, in its third tournament of the fall season, finally had a coach to lead it two weekends ago. Mark Riley, who officially took over the program on September 28, left his position as head coach at Kansas in order to assume the top position with the Quakers. He replaces Gordie Ernst, who resigned before the start of the season. Riley worked at Penn previously in 1992-93 as an assistant for the men's and women's tennis programs. Riley is quick to point out the respect that the Quakers deserve for playing coachless and for playing well until he arrived. "I give them a lot of credit for holding up under adversity," Riley said. "I thought that doubles might be a weakness coming in, but we looked good in our doubles matches [two weeks ago]. Right now we need to work on the technical and strategic things that the team couldn't address without a coach." The Quakers will have Riley's firm background in collegiate coaching to draw upon this season. Following two years of assistant coaching for the Quakers and the Jayhawks, Riley served as head coach of the Drake men's tennis squad. In his three-year tenure, he coached the Bulldogs to a second-place finish in the NCAA Region V and accumulated a 47-26 record. Riley returned to Kansas in 1996, this time in the head coaching position. In his four years, he coached the team to its highest ranking ever, No. 9 on the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll, and also had a Region V runner-up, three NCAA Region V qualifiers, 10 all-Big XII selections, a singles All-American and an NCAA quarterfinals doubles team. His overall record in seven years of head coaching is a solid 100-70. Even more impressive than Riley's ability to foster success on the court, however, is his ability to encourage success in the classroom. At Kansas, Riley's teams never dipped below a 3.0 cumulative grade point average, and his 1998 team won the Kansas Team Scholar Award for its 3.40 GPA. He also coached eight winners of the Big 12 Commissioners Award for academic excellence and one two-time Academic All-American. Riley is quick to stress academics as a central focus in his coaching strategy. His motto is concise. "Academics come first. Everything else comes second," Riley said. "My experiences at Drake and Kansas made me even more confident in what I think is important. You can balance athletics and academics." The rigorous academic atmosphere of the Ivy League is one of the reasons that Riley chose to take this position. Another is the chance for the Philadelphia native to return home. Riley has a commendable record in the community. He was director of the Jayhawks tennis camp (1997-2000) and director of Team Riley, a seasonal tennis program. Locally, he has been active in the Philadelphia Mentor Program and the Urban League of Philadelphia. "I try my best to get involved in the community," Riley said. "As soon as I get to know the team and start recruiting, I want to find out the needs of the University City community and try to address them." Recruiting for the team will be a task of great importance for Riley because there are no recruits in this year's freshman class. The new coach will attempt to address this situation with an open walk-on tournament later this year. "We need to aspire to be Ivy League champs," Riley said. "We lack depth because we don't have a freshman class, but the returners are good enough to contend in the Ivies. We just have to play inspired tennis every time out." Penn co-captain Rob Pringle acknowledged the team's need for a coach and showed optimism at having Riley in charge. "It's good to finally have some structure," Pringle said. "It's been a while since we've had that." Riley truly stresses structure. He has a dictum, one that transcends sports, that he thinks the team already follows. "If you carry yourself with class, people start paying attention to you. It matters as much as wins and losses, and I think the team already carries itself well," he said. If Riley has his way, the Ivy League will be paying a great deal of attention to Penn tennis this season.Comments powered by Disqus
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