The offseason is here, with all of Arizona’s sports done for 2021-22 and the 2022-23 campaigns still a little ways away.
Which makes this a great time to step back and see how all of the Wildcats’ programs are doing.
Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at each of the UA’s 19 men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future. 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 while also looking at this season and beyond.
Next up: Clancy Shields’ men’s tennis team.
How it looked before
Tennis is arguably Arizona’s least successful sport, both for men and women, and it was like that way for a long time without much interest from the athletic department to do anything about it. That changed in 2016 when longtime coach Tad Berkowitz was let go and Shields was hired away from Utah State.
Only 29 at the time, Shields was coming off a Mountain West Coach of the Year season in his third year at Utah State. Before that he’d been an assistant at Boise State, where in 2009 he was the WAC Player of the Year as a junior.
Where things stand now
Arizona has been trending up ever since Shields took over, culminating in three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances—it probably would have been four had the 2020 season not been cut short due to COVID-19—including a Sweet 16 in 2021 and then the Pac-12 regular-season title in 2022, the first in school history. The Wildcats were the first team to go unbeaten in conference play since 2014.
Unfortunately, the UA couldn’t replicate that success in the postseason, losing to Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 tourney and then falling to North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite being ranked No. 16, the Wildcats did not get to host and ended up having to travel to UNC.
Shields earned a contract extension in 2021 after the Sweet 16 run, locking him in through the 2026 season. He loses five seniors, including Filip Malbasic and Jonas Ziverts, but NCAA singles qualifier Gustaf Strom is set to return the the Wildcats have signed the No. 11 recruiting class in the country that includes Japanese native Jay Dylan Hara Friend and Californian Dominique Rolland, who is No. 41 in the US.
One big question
Does new success warrant upgraded facilities? The men’s and women’s golf programs are getting souped-up digs at Tucson Country Club, and deservedly so, but what about tennis? The on-campus LaNelle Robson Tennis Center was a gem in college sports when it opened in 1991, but since then not much has been done to upgrade the place.
Jedd Fisch is a big tennis fan, often attending home matches since coming to Arizona in December 2020. Maybe he can convince some of the donors he’s lined up for football improvements to pony up some money to ensure the UA’s facilities don’t negatively impact recruiting.