Tennis Coach Ken Alrutz Brings Experience, Excellence and Passion to Sport

Wesleyan tennis coach Ken Alrutz, right, teaches his son, Graham, a few techniques on the Wesleyan tennis courts Aug. 24.
Posted 08/24/06
Q: Ken, you will be entering your third year as the men’s and women’s head tennis coach. What attracted you to Wesleyan?

A: When my wife and I contemplated a move, I decided I wanted to coach both women and men, to work at an academically distinguished school, and to finish my career at a small institution similar to the place where I began my professional life.

Q: What months does the tennis season span? When do you begin NESCAC Championship playoffs?

A: Wesleyan’s tennis season commences the first day of classes in the fall, runs through the New England Women’s Invitational Tournament in late October. It begins again on February 15, and concludes with the NESCAC tournament the final weekend of April. Of course, the NCAA championship tournament takes a month longer, and my teams plan to qualify for that event as well.

Q: Who are your leading student-athletes? Do they play other sports as well?

A: Last season, six first-year women played significant roles on the team that posted an 11-4 record: Rachael Ghorbani ‘09, Ania Preneta ‘09, Madalina Ursu ‘09, Alexandra Sirois ‘09, Emily Fish ‘09 and Lizzie Collector ‘09. They, along with Tori Santoro ’07, who spent last spring in Paris, will form the nucleus of the squad, though I expect important contributions from newcomers Anika Fischer ‘10, Meredith Holmes ‘10, and Casey Simchik ‘10, who will also be a member of the squash team.

Among the starting men returning from the team that went 10-5 are Jack Rooney ‘07, Tallen Todorovich ’07, Michael Frank ‘08, Pauri Pandian ’08, Matthew O’Connell ’09, Alejandro Alvarado ’09, and Paul Gerdes ’09. Joining them and their teammates are two tremendous first years: George Pritzker ’10 and Miles Krieger ’10.

Q: Where were you coaching prior to Wesleyan?

A: Immediately before joining the Wesleyan staff, I served as the head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Miami University-Hamilton for three years, while also acting as a tennis professional at the Riverside Racquet Club in Hamilton, Ohio. I was the head men’s tennis coach at NCAA Division I Miami University in Oxford, Ohio from 1996 to 1999, and began my head coaching career at NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute from 1987 until 1996.

Q: What were some of your biggest achievements at these schools?

A: At Miami-Hamilton, my women’s and men’s teams won Ohio Regional Campus Conference Championships in 2002 and 2004. I led Miami University in Oxford to the Mid-American Conference men’s title in 1997. My coaching colleagues honored me with the conference’s Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1999, and the Midwest section of the United States Professional Tennis Association, of which I am a certified member, named me Team Coach of the Year a few months later. During the spring of 1990, VMI honored me with the Institute’s Distinguished Coaching Award; in 1992, I received the Southern Conference’s Tennis Coach-of-the-Year Award as well as the Mid-Atlantic Professional Tennis Association’s Collegiate Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1995. I am the first coach of any sport in VMI’s long athletic history to win one hundred contests, and my Division I squads at VMI and Miami saw twelve straight winning seasons.

Q: What is your overall coaching record?

A: My cumulative coaching record stands at 199-116, or 63 percent. More important than anything else, though, all of my teams boast a 100 percent graduation rate.

Q: You received a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1994 from the Virginia Military Institute and Honored Professor Awards from 2000-04 from Miami’s Associated Student Government. What were you teaching?

A: At VMI and Miami, I taught English full time in addition to coaching tennis. While my ostensible specialty is Victorian literature, I especially enjoy offering various courses in prose fiction, including Modern and Contemporary American Novels, Nineteenth-Century British Novel and International Short Fiction. In fact, I earlier taught English at Ripon and Lynchburg Colleges; at the former, I was also a volunteer English professor in the Wisconsin prison system.

Q: Where did you go to college and what are your degrees in?

A: I earned my undergraduate degree in English education at California State College, which I attended on a tennis scholarship, and did my graduate work in English at the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation subject was the Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley.

Q: For the non-tennis audience, can you what skills are needed to be a tennis player, and can anyone basically do this?

A: Tennis is an attractive spectator and participatory sport for a number of reasons. Playing the game at a high level demands keen hand-eye coordination, fast reflexes, excellent physical conditioning, and the ability to remain calm under pressure. One of the most appealing aspects of tennis for the non-professional is the many levels of the game; that is, no matter players’ ages or ability levels, they can find suitable practice partners or opponents.

Q: Is teaching the sport difficult?

A: I have given thousands of hours of tennis lessons in the past 26 years, and I guarantee that I can teach anyone to have fun with the game. When do you want to do a lesson?

Q: What classes do you teach as an adjunct professor?

A: I teach beginning and intermediate tennis courses here. My students are eager to learn, to improve their skills, so we have a great time.

Q: You have been on the Prince advisory staff for 18 years? What is involved in this?

A: My relationship with Prince has been a very happy one. Throughout the year, Prince sponsors clinics at tournament sites. Many times, I have worked these events with such world-ranked players as Michael Chang, Guillermo Coria, Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Jan-Michael Gambell, Xavier Malisse and Vince Spadea.

Q: Have you coached anyone who went on to be a “famous” tennis star?

A: Quite a few of my collegiate players have broken into the touring professional ranks. I am especially proud of coaching two young men while they played Davis Cup for their countries: Tunisia and the Bahamas. All fans recognize the four major tournaments—The Australian, the French, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open—but Davis Cup, the international team competition for men, and the women’s Federation Cup, strike me as the most significant events of the tennis calendar. Being selected to play for one’s country transcends all other tennis accomplishments.
Q: Do you have any tennis plans for the larger Wesleyan community?   A: Yes. I want to involve as many members of the Wesleyan family in tennis as possible in the coming year. First of all, my teams are dedicating our fall season to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Next, I want to initiate some type of tennis tournament open to everyone at the school. People can pair with varsity team members!  My teams and I will also donate a Saturday of introductory tennis lessons.Finally, my daugher, Rikki, and I want to offer Cardio Tennis classes here. Sponsored by the USTA, this activity combines tennis and fitness.

Q: What are your other interests?

A: I still follow my hometown Pirates and Steelers, though I am more interested in attending athletic contests at Wesleyan and supporting my colleagues’ efforts.
My major hobbies, if that is the correct term, are reading and writing. I am always in the middle of reading a novel or some type of history. Might I recommend such contemporary novels as Ellen Miller’s Like Being Killed, Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, and Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy. I also have four completed novels of my own in my desk drawer. My students and family continually urge me to publish them. Who knows? That might soon happen.

Q: Tell me about your family. Any young tennis players?

A: My wife, Kellylee, and I will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on September 5. She is a classical pianist, a woman of remarkable talents and the person who gives my life meaning. Our daughter, Rikki, attended a university in Paris and is now doing graduate work at Harvard. In addition to being a tremendous teacher and tennis player—she won a major tournament at Forest Hills, the former site of the U.S. Open, last summer—she speaks seven languages and is a professional interpreter. Our 11-year-old son, Graham, lives for art and tennis. He inherited his mother’s artistic ability, and he is an extremely accomplished tennis player, who dreams of playing on the international circuit in a few years.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor