Ask the Experts
Q&A with Case Western's Todd Wojtkowski
by Harry Cicma
, 30 November 2011
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Todd Wojtkowski is now in his fourth year as the head men's and women's tennis coach at Case Western Reserve University. Since his arrival, both Spartan tennis programs have established a new standard of play, bursting onto the national scene in NCAA Division III tennis.
Harry Cicma of NBC Sports sat down with Wojtkowski to talk college tennis, recruiting, and coaching.
Questions and Answers
Harry Cicma (HC): As a college player, you transfered from Toledo to Ohio State and played for both programs, how did that experience help you as a head coach for Case Western?
Todd Wojtkowski (TW):
Case Western coach Todd Wojtkowski
courtesy, CWRU athletics
I learned a lot at Toledo from Coach Al Wermer. I took a lot of notes from him about doing great things off the court. Coming out of juniors, I had been ranked as high as No. 15 in the Midwest, and I grew up in a town without many tennis courts or tennis coaches. Coach Al really helped my game and got me to another level - a level where I was able to play for a team like Ohio State.
I played No. 1 doubles at Toledo, and my partner and I defeated the No. 1 team from OSU. That was the first time I realized that I could compete at that level.
HC: How did your experience playing for Ohio State help you become a better coach?
TW: When I got to Ohio State, our team was very good. We had a lot of strong players who were hungry - our players had not been quite as highly-ranked as players going to the very top schools, but we were good. [Coach Ty Tucker] had taken chances on a few players - including some Ohio boys - and he always found ways to make them better.
I learned from Ty the principle of persistance and hard work. We put in so much time and so much effort because Ty got us to buy into a common goal. We all played like we had chips on our shoulders - and like we had something to prove and be proud of. In my senior year we jumped all the way up to No. 5 in the nation because of hard work, something to prove, and never taking any breaks - every day was a chance chance to get better.
I have simply taken this model and applied a lot of it to our program at Case. At OSU we had our #1 doubles team win 3 national titles while we were seniors. At Case we are not quite there yet - however, three of the final eight teams in our regional tournament came from Case.
HC: What was it like competing in the Big Ten Tennis Conference?
TW: Competing in the Big Ten was unique in that the level of play was extremely high. We had a couple of teams at the top of the Big Ten that were always in the top 10 nationally - in contention for national titles. The conference obviously has a lot of resources, and you get to compete in a lot of great facilities. One of the best things about the Big Ten is that they have their own singles tournament in the fall - that was a great chance for most players to prove themselves.
It was essentially the top junior players from the midwest and many top international players. There were not many easy matches. I did not get to play as many dual matches against the Big Ten teams - as I was usually just out of the singles lineup. I did however play a lot of those guys when playing Top 3 at Toledo.
HC: What are your goals at Case Western Reserve?
TW: My goals have always been the same since I interviewed for the job. I gave them a five year outlook and a ten year outlook. After five years, we want to be in the Top 10 in the nation, and in ten years we should have played in a national championship.
I also think that each year our team should take part in two major community service events. Our team GPA must be above 3.2. Our recruits must reach a level consistent with our peers - roughly 3- or 4-star players. Finally, I want to be the first coach to win a national title on the men's and women's side as I am head coach of both teams.
HC: And how is the push to meet those goals?
TW: We were unranked in the region and in the nation when I took over. In the past three years we have recruited like crazy to bring in the top players that this school should have had all along. Case is a great school and is appealing to recruits, but you have to do the work. You also need to put in the time with current players to make them better.
Our men's team ended last year ranked No. 19 in the nation. We have been able to do that by getting the most out of the potential of our athletes. If you look at the top 30 teams in the year-end 2011 rankings, the average player in the lineup had 2.8 stars with an average ranking of No. 280 at TRN. In the top 20, those numbers climb up to 3.2 stars and No. 220.
At Case, we were able to achieve a No. 19 ranking with players in the lineup who averaged 1.5 stars and an average ranking of 547 at TRN.
Our women's team is about one year behind our men's team, but we have many pieces in place for a Top 20 team. We have the No. 22 singles player in the region and a Top 8 doubles team.
HC: What kinds of kids do you try to recruit?
TW: I constantly show recruits how our players have over-achieved. Our players make huge advances at Case - playing highly above where we were in high school. Even our No. 1 female player - who is Top 2 in the region - was only a 2-star player coming in, and she has been beating many 3- and 4-star players.
I like our recruits to have chips on their shoulders. I want them to have a rust belt mentality, where we instill hard work values and ethics into their daily lives.
I look for them to obviously have great grades and test scores - Case is a Top 40 school in the nation, and our incoming students average 28-33 on the ACT and 640-710 on each part of the SAT. It is a difficult school to get into, and we need student athletes that can handle the rigors of tough academics.
I also look for what they want to do in life. Will their interest match up here? This year we have graduating seniors who will be going to medical school or grad school. Others have already received job offers from Proctor & Gamble, Accenture, GE, Key Bank, and other companies.
HC: How were you able to move Case Western Tennis into the Top 20 of the national D-III team rankings?
TW: Buying in. At OSU all the guys bought in to the system. At Case, we are the same. We are built by where we come from - Midwest values, hard work, blue collar attitudes that never quit, and never take a day off.
Personally I have not taken a day off since I have had this job because I absolutely love it. It's not work to me - it's my life. The players have done well to adopt my attitude and to have a discipline about them in which they don't put up with laziness, waste of time, or lack of focus.
The one last thing that has helped is our leadership. In D-III you are restricted in the offseason and are not allowed on court with the players outside of your nineteen weeks. This offseason our captain and our junior leaders have created a pledge board for our teams in which the players sign and pledge to continue their practice regimine through our offseason. The essentially don't take time off - they put in tons of hours.
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About Harry Cicma
When it comes to college tennis, Harry Cicma is your man. Cicma
covers tennis and other athletic stories for
writing articles and producing video segments.
He is co-founder and host of World Tennis
a weekly tennis show on NESN, and host of of Tennis Live Radio's
Cicma competed as a junior in USTA/New England and went on to play
college tennis at Rutgers University. As a professional, Cicma
competed at the ATP Newport tournament and the San Jose Siebel Open.
He reached a career-high #75 in the ATP doubles team rankings and
#1262 in the ATP Entry System.
In media, Cicma has run the gamut. He has worked for NBC, CBS, ABC,
ESPN, FOX Sports Net, the Tennis Channel, and World Team Tennis.
Cicma has announced NCAA sports as well as the US Open Tennis
Championships on both TV and radio.