When Penn men’s tennis sophomore Kyle Mautner quit hockey at the age of 12 to focus on tennis, he began making the hour-long trek from his home in Greenwich, Conn. to Long Island five times a week.
In just under seven years, he turned from a kid who practiced very little into one of the most highly touted recruits in the country, and then one of the best players in the Ivy League. The path to this point required hard work and a lot of time away from home, but for Mautner, it was all part of a special opportunity that has led to him playing at the top of the Quakers’ lineup.
With obvious talent at a young age and some promising results, Mautner and his family decided to relocate him to train with many other talented tennis players year-round in Florida. He lived full-time with his coach and practiced daily with several other budding recruits.
“I moved to Florida to develop my career, and because I thought that was the best option for me to bring my game to the next level,” he said. “My junior career, I had a lot of great wins at national tournaments and sectional tournaments, and I really broke through at the national level in the 18-and-under age division, winning a bunch. I’ve travelled to the Caribbean and Central America to play some international tournaments, but most of my success came in the U.S.”
A highly ranked recruit once he committed to the sport full-time — even becoming Connecticut’s top-ranked high schooler by the time he graduated — Mautner had already verbally committed to Penn by the end of his sophomore year of high school.
But unlike most athletes with that level of success, Mautner had an unusual recruitment process, having been in touch with Penn coach David Geatz both before and during his move south, before ultimately returning back to Connecticut for his senior year.
“When I was living in Florida, I committed to Penn because I felt as though it was a great balance of academics and athletics. I thought it would be a school where I could play at the top of the lineup from the start, and I really loved coach Geatz. I had known him since he worked at Greenwich Country Club when I was 12 or 13 years old,” Mautner said. “We stayed in touch all the way through. He came to watch me play a bunch of sectional tournaments ... I didn’t even make any official visits to any other schools because I was committed to Penn so early. I just knew it was the school I wanted to go to.”
Once on Penn’s campus, Mautner took little time to make his presence felt on the team. He quickly became the top guy in the lineup, and needed to adjust quickly to the level of play at the top of Division I programs.
“I felt like the biggest difference from junior to college tennis was the physicality,” Mautner said. “Most of the guys I played had big serves and moved well, so a part of me that needed to improve for me to compete and win was me getting into the gym more and working on the physical part of the game to hang in there with these guys.”
An early match against Dartmouth showed that he had the talent to stay on the court with the best, but also showed what he would be faced with at the D-I level.
“When we played Dartmouth, I was a freshman and I was playing against a 23-year-old senior who was a man. You could clearly see the difference. Mentally I felt like I could hang with these guys, but it was physically where I needed to improve the most.”
While some freshmen may shave struggled with being tasked as the top player on a college team from the get-go, Mautner was immediately comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, he was named first team All-Ivy and notched wins over three players ranked in the top-100 nationally.
“I really enjoyed being at the top of the lineup and being the guy who everyone could look up to and follow, training extra hours and getting other guys to come out as well,” Mautner said. “I embraced the challenge and embraced being at the top, and other than the very beginning when I was very nervous for my first match, I got into a rhythm all the way through.”
If he continues to stay in rhythm, look for Mautner and the rest of the Red and Blue to have a big year on court.