Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

First-Year Coach Lifts Team to Unseen Heights

John Thompson III was not the only coach this spring leading Georgetown’s athletics program to unprecedented heights.

On a the same sunny late March afternoon that nearly1,000 fans gathered outside the McDonough Gymnasium to send Thompson and his Hoya hoopsters off to Atlanta, Gordie Ernst watched a reborn men’s tennis team earn a 7-0 victory over Mount St. ary’s at the McDonough Tennis Complex just feet away from the adoring basketball fans. The win was the squad’s ninth of the season, and Ernst’s Hoyas would go on to 12-10 record on the year – the first winning season for a Georgetown tennis team since at least 2000, when the athletic department began keeping records.

Ernst, a former Brown tennis player and University of Pennsylvania head coach, took the reins of the tennis program in late February 2006 following Rich Bausch’s departure after 25 years at the helm.

Ernst’s presence was felt immediately with his players, as the new coach brought athletes to Georgetown that fit right in with his system.

“His style of coaching is perfect for Georgetown,” says junior co-captain Jeff Schnell, who transferred from American University to play for Ernst.

In addition to Schnell, freshmen Anthony Tan, Will Lowell and David Tillem quickly became team leaders in their first season. Tan, Lowell and Schnell were mainstays at the top of the singles’ lineup and Tillem held a 5-1 doubles record before he broke his wrist. Between Tan, Lowell and Schnell, the trio of newcomers played in all but seven of the 51 matches at No.1, 2 and 3 singles, recording a combined singles record of 25-21 on the season.

The new faces of Georgetown tennis were not exactly coasting through a cupcake schedule – the Hoyas faced six nationally-ranked squads this year.

In the brutal non-conference slate, the Hoyas managed to knock off Navy, 5-2, for just the fifth time since the two schools began playing each other annually in 1922. The feat got Georgetown tennis mentioned in Sports Illustrated, an honor rare for even the most accomplished tennis programs. Navy Head Coach John Officer said this was the most competitive Georgetown team he had seen in his 22 years coaching the Midshipmen.

While Ernst is pleased with the current success, he hopes that the program becomes a perennial power rather than a simple flash in the pan.

“[This year] was a really good start. My expectations were fulfilled, but . we can do better,” he says. “But to beat Richmond twice, to beat Navy, to beat St. Joe’s, to beat George Washington – these are teams that have all beaten Georgetown the last five years – that’s good.”

While Ernst cannot yet discuss next season’s recruits, he hinted that he will have another bountiful bumper crop coming to build the program.

“A kid could come here and possibly be one or two or go to Duke and play seven or eight. That’s a big thing for a tennis guy; sitting on the bench is no fun,” Ernst says.

Ernst says it is difficult to recruit top talent without scholarships or state-of-the art facilities, but he “sells the advantages.” These benefits include the bustling city surroundings of Washington, D.C., the renowned Georgetown academics and the tight knit nature of the team.

“They’re all good guys,” Ernst says. “There’s no fragmentation on our team, everyone’s together. So when a kid comes here and sees that, he wants to be a part of it.”

In order to maintain this friendship among his team as well as the strong work ethic that Ernst believes is vital to success, recruits need to be well-rounded, not just top-flight tennis players.

“If you recruit character, everything falls into place. If you recruit a kid who’s weak in character, then there’s opportunities for screw-ups,” Ernst says. “If you recruit a kid with strong character who loves the game, then it’s just trying to convince him to come here over Princeton or Michigan or somewhere [else].”

Less than a minute later, Ernst’s phone rings. “That call right there,” he says, “Is about the best guy that will ever play at Georgetown. That’s what’s going on, and it’s really crazy.”

Once Ernst gets a recruit, he knows how to get the most out of him. Schnell says that Ernst focuses on motivation rather than devoting time to the technical aspects of the game.

“Two or three matches a game come down to who wants it more, and that’s something Gordie tries to get out of us,” he says.

The Hoyas will need the strong recruits and hard work to reach Ernst’s lofty goals for next year; he hopes to improve on this year’s seventh seed in the Big East tournament and knock off a top-40 opponent. Georgetown will have plenty of opportunities for big upsets, with Pennsylvania, Yale, Old Dominion and Maryland already on the 2008 schedule and possible match ups with Notre Dame and Louisville in the conference tournament.

“[Navy] is a good win, but it’s not a great win. [Yale is] a high-profile team in the country. You get those wins, then you’re getting more credibility for the team,” Ernst says.

Ernst also took the reins of the women’s tennis team this year, which marked his first season coaching women’s college tennis. While the team stumbled to a 3-18 mark and was winless in the Big East, both coach and players felt their struggle in the past year will translate to a smoother start in 2007.

“It took some time to see how hard I could push. My first instinct was not to push too hard, but the girls want be pushed and they want to get better just like the guys do,” Ernst says. “Learning how to find the right ways to motivate them is a part of the learning curve.”

Junior Stephanie Cohen, the team’s best singles player at 8-11 on the year, says that this was a rebuilding year for the Hoyas, but feels that Ernst’s positive impact is already visible.

“The atmosphere at practice is more energetic and I really look forward to going to practice,” she says.

According to Ernst, one of the best female recruits from the south will be coming to Georgetown and the program will be hiring a full-time assistant coach to help out with both the men’s and women’s squads.

The women will also play high-caliber opponents, including Dartmouth, Southern Mississippi, Auburn and Maryland next year as they look to earn their first Big East tournament bid since 2000.

Off the court, Ernst says his family is enjoying life in the District. A self-proclaimed history buff, he enjoys visiting the monuments and historical sights around the city. Ernst also takes his two daughters to see the pandas at the zoo, and enjoys the many restaurant options around Georgetown, particularly Cafe Milano.

Both Schnell and Cohen describe their coach as an outgoing person who is fun to be around.

Ernst, drafted out of college by the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars, is even slowly starting to switch his allegiance to the Washington Capitals.

“I really enjoy it here and my family is settling in,” he says in a serious manner when asked if he sees himself remaining at Georgetown for the long term. But his joking nature quickly gets the best of him.

“If I can get the same salary as Thompson, I’ll sign a 40-year deal right now.”

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