The players are locals, for the most part, used to the snow, cold and thin air that comes with Utah tennis . . . much more so than their coach.
John Vinson wasn't used to cold country. To him, winter tennis meant having to wear warm-ups before noon. High altitude tennis was climbing steps to get to a court. And, snow came in a cup and was best with strawberry or grape syrup.He grew up in Florida, played college tennis in North Carolina (Wake Forest) and coached in Louisiana (Louisiana Tech). But, given the opportunity, he wanted something different . . . "something out West," he recalls.
Logan was it. When the tennis job opened up last summer at Utah State he applied, was hired and showed up on campus in September with a deep tan, a bag of tennis rackets and the certainty that this was, indeed, different . . . mountains, heavy coats, snow shovels, heating bills and indoor tennis.
He found out, too, that USU's only indoor tennis courts - two - were student-owned and reserved. Team time was limited to two hours a day. Besides that, the surfaces were a spongy rubber . . . "Hard to get used to, very fast and hard to adjust from when we go outdoors," he says.
And, that Logan isn't the only place out west with unstable weather. Several of the Aggies out-of-town matches have been weathered-out, including four of seven dual matches scheduled in Hawaii last month.
Still, he says with an easy smile, "It's been fun. I've enjoyed it. I like it here . . . but it took some getting used to."
. . . Snowy days, scheduling nightmares, canceled matches, and now he faces his first conference meeting as head mentor. Both teams will play in Ojai, Calif. The women will begin play Thursday, the men on Friday.
Discouraging to Vinson is the fact that the Aggies haven't been able to get in all of their court matches this season; encouraging is the fact that despite all the hardships his player "have improved . . . to a player."
When Vinson came to Logan his team was ready-made. He had no time to recruit. Which, he admits, wasn't all that bad . . . "There were some good players. And, with the exception of two player, they're all from Utah."
A big help in the transition was Richard Thom, now the assistant coach, but once the No. 1 singles player for the Aggies. He knew the courts and the campus, and the returning players.
On the men's side is Rob Markosian, a product of Judge Memorial; R. J. Stevens of Brighton High; Chad Iverson of Bonneville High; Chris Jones of Box Elder High; and Chris Wright from California by way of Dixie College. Also there is Enok Eskinazl from Istanbul, Turkey.
On the women's side there's Camille Larsen and Annica Berkey, both of Logan High; Catherine Nisonger and Stefanie Tugaw, both of Box Elder High; Meredith Wright of Timpview High; and Stephanie Comfort of Cottonwood High.
While their record this far hasn't been worth ranking, Vinson says each player has had his/her moments. And each has a shot at conference honors.
Markosian, who plays No. 1, has had a tough year in the top spot, but has posted some good wins. "If he plays like he played in his last match, he'll do well in the finals," said Vinson . . . Stevens has done well in singles, but better in doubles. He's known for his big (he's 6-foot-8) serve and volley game . . . Wright is the team captain and, says Vinson, is a good all-around player with no real weakness . . . Eskinazl is another of the all-arounders with a strong baseline game . . . Iverson plays the baseline and has a solid all-around game . . . and Jones has the big return, good serve and court quickness to do well.
Larsen moved from the No. 6 spot last year to playing No. 1 for the lady Aggies. It's been tough being on top, but Vinson says she's raised her game and is playing at that level now. She has a solid baseline game, but likes to attack when shots are right . . . Tugaw has a big return from the backcourt . . . Nisonger is another player who has improved in recent months. She's a serve and volleyer, and a good doubles player . . . Wright is a freshman walkon known for her quickness on the court . . . Comfort recently rejoined the team after doing studies in Oregon. She gives the Aggies the first full women's team this season . . . and Berkey is another who has elevated her game and is currently playing her best tennis.
Looking at the conference finals, Vinson says its difficult to say where the power rests this year. UC-Irvine and UNLV will be strong on the men's side, and UNVL on the women's side.
"Past that I'm not sure. We could do well in a couple of spot," he says. "if we play like we have in our last matches."
What he sees down the road, though, stirs optimism in his words . . . "Next year we'll be a pretty good team. We've got some good players coming in. Also, they're talking about indoor courts. That would make a big difference in tennis. There's a lot here now to offer a player. The courts would make it that much better."
Including what Vinson predicts as strong winter tennis program - snow ignored.