It may seem like college sports are always going on, but July is the one month of the year when no Arizona Wildcats teams are in action. Yep, we’re as sad about that as you are.
Before you know it, the 2019-20 seasons will be under way for Arizona’s 19 men’s and women’s sports. But in the meantime, now is the perfect opportunity to assess how each of these programs are doing.
Over the next few weeks we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking into the near future).
Next up: Clancy Shields’ men’s tennis team.
How it looked before
Much as it was with women’s tennis at Arizona, men’s tennis had long been a basement program in the Pac-10/12. The last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2010, the last season with 15 or more victories was in 2009, but it wasn’t until after the 2015-16 season that the school decided to make a leadership change.
Out was Tad Berkowitz, who had run the program since 2005 but peaked in 2009 when he was conference coach of the year. He was replaced by what could best be described as a young, up-and-coming unknown in Shields, who was 29 when Arizona hired him away from Utah State in May 2016.
Where things stand now
Greg Byrne’s coaching hires during his time as athletic director were a mixed bag, but the acquisition of Shields was one that didn’t get nearly as much praise as it should have. It took a little while for Shields to gain traction, though, losing his first 18 Pac-12 matches—including the first three of the 2019 slate—before beating Washington, Oregon and Utah in an eight-day span in April for its first conference victories since 2014.
That run helped Arizona earn its first NCAA tourney bid since 2010, where it fell to Oklahoma in the first round, but the Wildcats also sent Jonas Ziverts to the NCAA singles tournament for their first individual entry since 2004.
Shields’ efforts were rewarded in late June when his contract was extended through the 2022 season. He earned $75,000 in 2018-19, when he was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
One big question
Is this sustainable? Six of the seven players who were on the court for Arizona in the NCAA tournament are set to return for 2019-20, including Ziverts and fellow all-conference selection Filip Malbasic. Ziverts will be a sophomore and Malbasic a junior, so the Wildcats will have them leading the charge together for at least two more seasons.
And Arizona is bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in program history, a three-man group that is considered the No. 25 class in the country and second-best in the Pac-12.