With turmoil comes change, and as bleak as their past may seem, the University of Chicago's varsity men's tennis team, which has been mired in last place in the UAA conference for the past six seasons, has undergone major restructuring this season. Bill Simms, who coached tennis at Chicago from 1979 to 2000, has returned to serve as an interim head coach for both the men's and women's teams during the 2003 season. Simms replaces Natalie Butler, the Maroons' head coach for two seasons, who has accepted a position on the staff at the NCAA.
With the men's team having finished a meager 2-10 last season and 15-42 in the past four, Simms has a daunting task ahead of him. The last time a Maroon tennis team has had a winning season was in 1998, when the women's team wound up 10-5.
Simms still feels optimistic about this season's promise and talent. "The experience is still here. We have lots of experienced, strong veterans returning. Jason [Wu], Jacob Reckess, [who is] one of our best players, Basil [Alsikafi], and Doug [York] will be back. Spirit is better now. People want to play, and one of the freshmen I previously coached, Derrick Almassy, [now a fourth-year] who didn't play last year is back as a co-captain with Jason Wu. We're pretty optimistic."
As an interim head coach, Simms has been relatively limited in his duties. Unlike other previous head coaches, he is not required to teach beginner and intermediate tennis classes and has been able to devote most of his time to scheduling and holding flexible practices for his teams. The previous season, the team had to practice several times at 6:30 a.m. Because of his relatively lax schedule, Simms has been able to schedule multiple practices a day to accommodate more students and better fit everyone's already busy schedule.
This past weekend's match with Grinnell College and Carroll College was cancelled. Simms noted that the team's schedule is constantly changing and continues to be revised as he adds in more games and matches for the season. The men's first game won't be played until after spring break. The men's season will be relatively short, with the UAA conference playoffs happening in late April. The Maroons will probably be playing most of their matches in a window of four weeks, allowing Simms little time to revise his roster.
With only Alsikafi and Reckess set as doubles partners, Simms plans to iron out several of details during spring break, when the Maroon team will be practicing in Arizona at the Paseo Racquet Center.
Simms warned, though, that with Emory University as a perennial powerhouse and Washington University of St. Louis as a consistent runner-up, the Maroons will have their work cut out for them before they can escape from the cellar which they've been in for the past six seasons. Simms believes that with the return of several of last season's experienced veterans, the Maroons have a legitimate shot at improving upon the last two season's records of 2-10 and 5-10.
"We're a month and half away from starting. Arizona will solve some of the roster problems. Everyone is really psyched. The desire is really there. If it were up to the players, I wouldn't mind coaching another year," said Simms.