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DePaul club tennis’ turnaround leads them to recognition

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(Photo courtesy of Jon Mulvey)

DePaul Club Tennis earned a bid to the United States Tennis Association Tennis on Campus Nationals. (Photo courtesy of Jon Mulvey)

In 2011, the state of DePaul Club Tennis was bleak.

It only had five members and was technically on probation. The sparse group would struggle to meet on a consistent weekly basis due to lack of organization, leadership and facilities.

Fast forward five years later, DePaul Club Tennis now boasts more than 100 members and has racked up an impressive amount of awards for its leadership on and off the court. The “A” travel team also earned a bid to the United States Tennis Association (UTSA) Tennis on Campus Nationals after a stellar run at Midwest Sectionals.

The success that the team enjoys today certainly did not magically occur overnight. It’s solely due to its president, Jon Mulvey, who said he’s spent 20-30 hours every week for the past five years trying to create the best club tennis team.

Mulvey, who studies Tennis Management at DePaul’s School for New Learning, joined the makeshift team in fall 2011. Immediately, he took it upon himself to lead the team in a better direction.

“There is so much love for tennis on this campus,” Mulvey said. “I saw an opportunity to develop (the club) from the ground floor. I love being part of the process of growing something into a giant community.”

The first step Mulvey took to improve the desolate club was getting it off probation so they could travel and practice. Once off probation, he formed weekly practices and organized the club’s first indoor practice at Mid-Town Athletic Club. Once the basics were covered, Mulvey focused on building a professional brand for the club.

“If you set a professional and organized tone for something, people will respond positively to that,” Mulvey said. “If they think it’s a legitimate (club) they’re going to take it way more seriously than something that looks like it’s thrown together overnight.”

Although the club has a popular Facebook page, Mulvey is proudest of the YouTube channel, which he has been posting videos on since the team first competed at the 2011 Badger Classic. Mulvey said there is no other team in the country who consistently posts YouTube videos and that some of the club players have been recognized by other competitors across the country for their video appearances.

After an initial rocky relationship with the USTA, Mulvey’s hard work and drastic changes on and off the court were aptly recognized by the USTA Midwest Tennis on Campus Committee, as the club was deservingly awarded USTA Midwest Tennis on Campus Club of the Year in 2013. Mulvey said that winning this award just a short two years after he took over was “the single best moment” he’s had in five years.

“Winning Midwest Club of the Year in 2013 was a huge accomplishment for us, considering the previous school year we had finally gotten ourselves to become a serious club and started playing matches and tournaments that really mattered,” said Praveen Kopparapu, a DePaul alumnus and former club vice-president who joined the team in 2011 with Mulvey.

Mulvey’s dedication to the club has also been recognized by Mark Ardizzone, head coach of DePaul’s women’s tennis team. Ardizzone has been the head coach for more than 20 years, and said that the club’s disastrous reputation led him to initially brushing off Mulvey’s interest to improve the club team.

“I’ve had a couple people over the years tell me that they’re going to do something with the club team and I’ve said, ‘yeah… sure’,” Ardizzone said. “But I could see after talking to (Mulvey) a couple of times that his determination was different than everyone else… He had a real passion for tennis.”

After seeing the extensive improvements Mulvey had implemented within the club team, Ardizzone suggested a joint-team practice in the fall of 2013. Initially, he thought only a handful of people would come out, but was shocked to see more than 50 club members make an appearance. For the past three years, at least 40 players have showed up each fall for the two-hour practice.

In a USTA Midwest Leader of the Year nomination video, Ardizzone said he hopes these joint practices will continue, despite Mulvey stepping down as president in the fall of 2016. Freshman Alexandra Gorodiski will have extremely large shoes to fill once she takes over, but said she hopes to expand upon the club’s social media presence in order to create more funding opportunities.

It’s the perfect time for Mulvey to step down, as five years of endless dedication awarded him USTA Midwest Leader of the Year in 2016. His ability to so quickly turn the team around from its humble beginnings to a nationally respected competitive force granted him the club’s highest accolade yet, the 2016 USTA/NIRSA Tennis Ace Award. This award recognizes one club team in the entire nation for its “outstanding accomplishments in tennis participation.”

Mulvey said it feels natural for him to bow out with seniors Andrea Kinnerk and Andrew Weitzer, who have been with the team since 2013, when it received its first bid to nationals after winning the Midwest Club of the Year award.

“Of course I’m just as excited as I was my freshman year,” Kinnerk said. “But since we actually qualified due to our results at sectionals, it makes it more special for me. It’s my last year so I couldn’t have hoped for a better way to finish my tennis club career at DePaul.”

Mulvey said the team had about a one out of 100 chance of qualifying at sectionals, considering it never previously made it past the round of 16. In dramatic fashion, the team pulled through the first knock-out round by one point over a tough Notre Dame team. After losing to eventual Midwest runners-up Wisconsin in the next round, the team rebounded with an uncontested win over Butler for sixth place, which automatically qualified them for nationals. The team will compete in Cary, N.C. from April 14 to 16.

“I want all eyes to be on us all the time. It’s a chance for us to further legitimize ourselves as an organization,” Mulvey said in regards to his expectations for the team at nationals. “All of the work I have done in the past five years has set us up for this amazing run we’ve had this year.”

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DePaul club tennis’ turnaround leads them to recognition