Giovanna Z. Rinaldo
A 6-3 victory over Caltech on May 8 was the last time student athletes represented the University of La Verne on a tennis court.
Following the men’s team path to cancellation and ending 50 years of tradition in the sport, University of La Verne women’s tennis program was suspended with no plans of reinstatement.
The team was notified through an emailed letter sent in early June – a week after the spring semester ended.
Provost Jonathan Reed explained that the decision “stems from the adverse effects of not having tennis facilities near campus and the lack of an accompanying men’s tennis program to build camaraderie,” in the letter, which team members posted on Facebook.
In addition insufficient members and an inability to assure a “level of participation and competition” consistent with the University’s goals were also presented as justifications for the program’s cancellation.
“It was very surprising,” said senior criminology major Areli Martinez, who had been on the team since she arrived at the university three years ago. “I understood they were cutting the program, but I didn’t understand why.”
Martinez and her teammates started an online petition in an effort to save the program. They gathered over 1,100 signatures from the university’s students, faculty, alumni, staff and others, but it was not enough to have the team reinstated.
“First I’d want to say it was a very very difficult decision, because it was certainly devastating to some of our students for whom tennis is not just a sport, it’s a way of life,” Reed said in an interview this week. “There is no good time to make the decision and I’m not sure there is a good way to make the decision.”
Since 2010, when tennis courts were replaced by the Vista dorms to accommodate an increasing number of students, the women’s tennis team has held its practices at The Claremont Club, roughly six miles away.
“We never complained about it,” Martinez said. “Those trips to the Claremont Club, they really built character and they really built closeness between the teams. It was its own experience.”
Not having the ideal conditions to sustain the program on campus, however, weighted heavily on the decision to suspend it – especially when comparisons were drawn with other universities’ programs.
“It’s about program sustainability,” said Athletics Director Julie Kline. “When we look at program sustainability we look at overall quality experience for our student athletes. We talk about facilities, and when we look at the current state of facilities within our conference we will be the only school that will have off-campus facilities.”
Other sports at ULV also deal with the lack of on-campus facilities, including swimming and diving, water polo and golf. Not having on-campus tennis courts had put the team at a disadvantage among competitors.
“Golf is in the same situation as all universities because all universities have a country club,” Kline said. “They all have off-campus golf courses that they practice and play at. So it’s the same level playing field.”
Tennis courts were initially considered as a possibility for the last phase of University of La Verne’s 2020 Master Plan. However, they were not included on the Board of Trustees approved Plan submitted to the city of La Verne.
The absence of an accompanying men’s team has been a reality since that program was suspended on 2009.
The women’s team was also going to be suspended then, but the University decided not to cut the program.
“There was sufficient interest at the time in the women’s team that we accommodated them by renting courts at the Claremont Club,” Reed said.
A shortage of team members also played a part in the decision to suspend the program, as well as shortage of new recruits, especially to replace the two players graduating.
“If you look at the ability to field a full and competitive roster year in and year out, and we’ve had out challenges over the years,” Kline said. “Most recently, we had some challenges recruiting members.”
According to Kline, no new students had been recruited for the following season.
“We didn’t know until late that we didn’t have any recruits coming in,” Kline said. “It wasn’t because of a lack of effort. It’s challenging. And every sport is different, every sport has its different challenges.”
As for the funding of the program, the university provided a budget of roughly $15,000 to cover bus trips, events, operational fees and other expenses. The cost of optional out-of-state trips is the team’s responsibility to fundraise.
“They give is the bare minimum,” Martinez said. “We have enough money in our account right now to fund for what was going to be this season. If they weren’t going to give us the money we would be able to fund it with the money that we do have on the account.”
For the new season, they managed to accumulate over $15,000 on their account, according to their online petition webpage.
“I don’t think money was ever a big issue,” said junior kinesiology major and former tennis player Janae Chinn. “It was a big picture issue, but it was one of the smaller issues we had.”
The resignation of head coach Yolanda Duron, who has been in charge of the women’s tennis team since 2009, also contributed to the decision to suspend the program. After numerous successes in recent years, the women’s tennis team was going through a transitional phase, which Martinez referred to as being a “baby team” again.
“I think the factor that our coach was leaving was a catalyst, and that they couldn’t hire a new coach as great as the one that we had,” Chinn said.
Duron was named Intercollegiate Tennis Association national coach of the year in 2014, the same year La Verne women’s tennis team had their best season in history.
“She brought this team to a number two spot in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, we’ve never been so high up,” Martinez said.
“We’ve ranked up to top 15 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association division three league, we’ve had about five All-American players, we’ve made it to the NCAA regionals, one of our players made it all the way to the Ojia Tennis Tournament final…”
Duron has helped bring the program to its peak right before it concluded its 50-year cycle since foundation in 1966.
“At that time, the coach decided to resign to take another position and we felt that that was the appropriate time to make the decision,” Reed said.
Former players will now have to explore their identities and college experiences outside of the tennis court.
“The reason why it’s so hard is because I’ve always been identified as a student athlete and that’s always been me,” Martinez said. “I’ve always been a tennis player. In high school I was a student athlete, here I was a student athlete. Tennis was my passion, tennis was who I was, and it was being taken away from me.”
Martinez believes the team represented the school well in athletics as well as in academics. Most of the players excelled grade-wise too, and some were on the honor’s program and/or dean’s list.
“It was my community, how I fit in to the school being a part of the athletes,” Chinn said. “I got to meet a bunch of girls and we got to bond because of tennis.”
Chinn said the program’s suspension had a deep impact in her college experience and sense of community, and that is sinking in now that classes started again.
“It’s still a painful thing,” Chinn said. “I’ve had a lot of time to process it, I know that I need to do something about it, I’m going to study abroad or something like that. But just thinking about it (the cancelation), talking about it and then experiencing it now especially at school it’s still extremely painful.”
Although both Martinez and Chinn still play tennis as a hobby, they agreed that it feels different.
“It’s not a big commitment anymore,” Chinn said. “It’s more like ‘what am I playing for?’ because I’ve always played to practice for the team and always wanted to improve for the team. And now I don’t know what I’m playing for.”
The team has not yet met up to play together, but they intend to do so during the fall semester. Their biggest concern, however, is about the future students who will not have a chance to experience being student-athletes playing tennis.
“La Verne is the only team in the SCIAC conference not to have a men’s and women’s tennis team,” Chinn said. “I don’t think it looks good, especially for incoming people. Tennis is such a popular sport, especially in Southern California, and for that program to be unavailable to potential students…”
According to Kline, the University has made the decision in the best interest of the program, of the department and of the institution.
“We are very proud of all the student-athletes who have been part of the Leopard tennis program over the years,” Kline added. It’s a very difficult and challenging situation for everyone involved. It’s with a heavy heart that we make these decisions.”
Janae Chinn, Bridget Etchegaray, Savannah Fisher, Savanah Goode, Madison Madewell, Areli Martinez and Shenelle Trujillo were the last women’s tennis team at the University of La Verne.
“I had a vision of coming back 20 years from now and still being able to play in alumni matches,” Martinez said.
“We can always play,” Martinez added. “But taking that opportunity away from other people that want to play division three tennis… They’re taking that away from them and it’s a great experience. They can take the program away from me, but they can’t take my memories.”
Giovanna Z. Rinaldo can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @giozrinaldo.