It’s Sept. 7, the first day of tennis tryouts, and new and returning players mill about the new Erin J. Lastinger tennis center, which is abuzz with excitement and nervous energy. They gather in groups and spread out on the pristine courts and inside the newly-furnished team break room to discuss their plan of action for the coming practice.
“It’s like we’ve been driving a 1970 Buick and all of a sudden, we’ve got a brand new BMW,” said head tennis coach Will Marino.
Before the opening of the new tennis center, Chapman’s tennis program had to compete using insufficient resources, Marino said. Named in honor of Chapman alumnus Erin Lastinger, who donated $3.2 million to the project, the 1.75 acre $7 million complex has seven tennis courts, home and visitor locker rooms and a coach’s office. After two years of construction, players have the chance to practice and compete in the fully equipped facility, which is across from Marion Knott Studios.
“I would be proud to have people play here, especially compared to what it used to be,” said sophomore strategic and corporate communication major and returning tennis player Anja Seng.
The original courts located on Center Street were not up to conference standards, which require a minimum of six available courts and easily accessible facilities. Matches at Chapman would often last more than seven hours because there were only four courts available, said senior health sciences major and four-year tennis player Thimanthi Withana. With no nearby bathrooms or water fountains, students and visiting teams would have to walk to Chapman’s main campus to use facilities.
“They were super damaged… there were cracks running down the courts,” Withana said.
In 2015, the old courts were demolished to make room for the new Center for Science and Technology. Without courts of their own during that time, Chapman’s tennis teams had to travel off campus to the Anaheim Hills Tennis Club and the Anaheim Tennis Center to practice, which caused a drop in student participation in tennis and quickly hurt Chapman’s ability to keep up with the competition, Marino said. Last season, men’s tennis won only three out of 18 matches. Women’s tennis won two out of 19.
“(As) soon as we went off campus, we fell off the rankings,” Marino said.
During the two years in which the courts were located off campus, many players left the team due to an inability to commit, said sophomore business administration major and returning tennis player Raven Hampton. Both the men’s and women’s teams had about six or seven consistent players each, during this time – the majority of them being walk-ons. The teams could not hold tryouts because of the lack of interest.
“We lost a lot of good players.” Hampton said. “The last two years we didn’t actively recruit, but the new courts will allow us to be competitive again.”
Since the opening of the tennis center, interest in tennis has risen, Marino said. Having a facility on campus has allowed the tennis teams to resume actively recruiting incoming freshmen.
“(The tennis center) is fantastic, it’s definitely a draw for freshmen entering tennis,” said freshman economics major Quinten Arrizza, who tried out for the team.
This year, both the men’s and women’s teams are expected to have 12 to 16 experienced players each after tryouts end, which is about double the amount of last season. Marino predicts that Chapman men’s and women’s tennis will be ranked the Division III top 30 this year.