On the campus of Marymount California University, at the peak of a hillside overlooking the Pacific with Catalina Island imposing off the coast, four newly surfaced tennis courts sit in waiting. In less than a year, the courts will gladly welcome back groundstrokes, service aces, and overhead lobs for the first time in over a decade. Mariner Tennis is returning to Rancho Palos Verdes, and head coach Jamie Sanchez is hard at work building a Men’s and Women’s tennis program scheduled to play its first collegiate matches late in 2018.
Marymount has grown substantially since ending its tennis program in 2006. Enrollment has doubled, with about 1500 students from more than 20 states and 20 countries, and with a multi-tiered campus of classrooms and apartments both atop the hill and along the waterfront. With its pristine surroundings, Marymount aims to increase the daily activity of its student body, and the resurgence of athletics is a substantial move in that direction.
With soccer, baseball, cross country, and golf programs firmly in place, Marymount will look to volleyball, lacrosse, and tennis as the next wave of opportunity for scholar-athletes. Having evolved from a two-year college program to a four-year university, athletes seeking a bachelor’s degree can now consider Marymount as an ideal venue to remain competitive in sports while gaining a high quality education.
For Sanchez, the process is long and arduous. A longtime tennis coach and administrator with Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, Sanchez has no trouble selling his love for the sport. But a brand new program at a small, discreet university may well be his biggest challenge.
“I have experience doing this sort of thing,” says Sanchez, who started Loyola Marymount’s women’s program in the 1970s and logged 40 years at the helm, including 21 years in the dual role as Men’s/Women’s head coach. In the first year at Marymount – what he calls the first of three “stages” in developing a new program – Sanchez firmly believes the Mariners “could be winning our conference. The recruits who write back to me ask that question. We’re going to compete to win (in the first year), to win our conference.”
The tennis program would play under the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) umbrella, an alternative to NCAA competition which includes schools like Westmont College and Hope International University. Competing within NAIA paves the road for a diverse spectrum of players, from polished competitors to developing talent.
“The larger schools (like UCLA or USC) naturally target a certain level of player,” says Sanchez. “A program like ours affords many opportunities for players of all skill levels. There are so many players in Southern California who don’t achieve the high level they could, because they don’t have the opportunity. This is the opportunity.”
Sanchez will spend the bulk of early 2018 reaching out to schools, parents, and students who would be ideal for the Marymount program. Junior college athletes, players in need of guidance and development, and high school tennis programs are on his immediate radar, with hopes of introducing Marymount California University to athletes who will inaugurate the school’s modern foray into competitive collegiate tennis.
“I want players who love the game, and who want to improve competitively,” Sanchez says. “I have no hesitation showing them how to win, but players are the ingredients.”
Of course, Sanchez’s new role also marks his return to on-coaching, and he’s clearly motivated by the challenge and looking forward to next fall.
“I’ve missed it,” he says of coaching. “Once you do it and love it for so long, the reward is intangible. Awards and results, they are tangible. But the experience is intangible.”
Learn more at https://www.marymountcalifornia.edu/athletics/.