With the construction of Baylor's Hurd Tennis Center and Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center, both recognized among the nation's best facilities, the University served notice that it was poised and ready to host the National Championships. Now, the NCAA-awarded 2015 Tennis Championships are here, and Baylor and Waco are ready to take the spotlight on the highest stages in collegiate tennis.
In May, 32 of the nation's top tennis teams--16 men's and 16 women's teams--will converge on Waco for an event unlike any other in college sports. For nearly two weeks, from May 14-25, the 2015 NCAA Tennis Championships will bring hundreds of players, thousands of fans and dozens of administrators from the NCAA and participating teams to campus. The opportunity to make a great impression on these visitors, most of whom are coming to Baylor for the first time, is an exciting yet monumental undertaking.
"This is something that's been talked about since I arrived at Baylor 12 years ago," Ian McCaw, director of athletics, said. "It's a great chance to showcase Baylor University and the Waco community and roll out the red carpet for 32 Division I Tennis teams that make it to the championship."
Even amidst this era of unprecedented success for Baylor Athletics, the 2015 NCAA Men's Tennis Championships represent an historic milestone. For the first time ever, the NCAA will crown national champions on the Baylor campus. Men's tennis coach Matt Knoll envisioned this when he came to Baylor in 1996. Since then, the success of the tennis program and the generosity of transformational donors like Mark and Paula Hurd and Jim and Nell Hawkins worked hand-in-hand to turn that dream into a reality.
"I've been thinking about this for 19 years now," Knoll said. "It's a big deal for us to be one of the very few programs that host this event. So many great things are happening at Baylor up and down the Athletic Department and the University, and I believe this was another thing we really needed to have."
"It's like the U.S. Open is being held in Waco," women's tennis coach Joey Scrivano said. "Both the U.S. Open and the NCAA Tournament are two-week events with very high-level tennis. It's a unique experience that really requires everyone getting involved to pitch in and help."
Historically, it has been difficult for a new host school to break into the NCAA Tennis Championships rotation. In the last 30 years, the event has only been held outside of Athens, Ga., or a West Coast school seven times. Landing the event is a sign of the respect Baylor tennis has earned over a long stretch of excellence for both the men and women, and recognition that Baylor’s facilities are outstanding. Being named a host site signifies that several pieces of a complex and difficult-to-assemble puzzle have finally come together.
Baylor was not well known as a tennis school when Matt Knoll became head coach 19 years ago, but by the time Joey Scrivano joined the tennis program in 2002, Baylor tennis' reputation was growing. Now, Baylor is routinely mentioned among the nation's elite, with a well-stocked trophy case testifying to the program's excellence. The men's tennis team won the first national title in Baylor history in 2004, a milestone that demonstrated to every other sport that the University could succeed at the highest levels.
Together, Knoll and Scrivano own more conference championship trophies than every other men's and women's tennis coach in Big 12 history combined--12 regular season and 8 conference tournament titles for the men; 10 regular season and 7 conference tournament championships for the women. Their success built a reputation that gave Baylor's bid for the 2015 Championships instant credibility.
In addition to a high-caliber program, to land an NCAA Championship requires top-notch facilities, and Baylor can boast two of the nation's best.
"This would not have been possible without the Hurd Tennis Center and the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center," Ian McCaw said. "I don't think any of the programs that host national championships could do it without great facilities and without generous donors that support the program. We're very fortunate that Mark and Paula Hurd and Jim and Nell Hawkins have come alongside us. Without them, we wouldn't have the facilities that enabled us to make a successful bid for the Championships."
The Hurd Tennis Center was the first major physical symbol of Baylor tennis' ascension. Built in 2001, the facility's status as an elite venue was made possible by former Baylor tennis player and Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, BBA '79, and his wife, Paula. Hurd, a member of the Baylor Board of Regents, has made numerous visionary gifts to the University and the Baylor Tennis program.
"I had the benefit of being a Baylor student-athlete," Hurd said. "It taught me a lot--not just about being a tennis player, but about having to balance multiple things in my life at the same time, like academics and my commitment to the tennis team. I've been forever grateful for my experience at Baylor."
That experience motivated him to partner with Baylor Tennis to help the program become the nation's best. His generosity has worked alongside the team's rise to dominance to make hosting the Championships at Baylor possible.
"From the day we started, this was part of our vision," Hurd said, "to have the premier tennis facility for the premier tennis program in the country. We recognized there were two pieces--the team and the program has to [be the best] and the facilities have to be up to that performance. We have to be the best at everything we do."
The Hurd Tennis Center provided Baylor Tennis an elite outdoor facility, and in 2013 it was joined by an elite indoor facility--the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center, made possible by a transformative lead gift from longtime Baylor benefactors Jim, BBA '58, and Nell Hawkins.
"We saw how much facilities mattered," Nell Hawkins said, "and looked at the success of our tennis programs and saw there was a strong need. We love Baylor and wanted to give back, and we've always loved tennis. We decided this was the place to do something really different."
How much did the facility matter? Less than a year after it opened, Baylor was awarded the Tennis Championships. For the Hawkins, the Championships are a great return on the investment, bringing an event that will bridge their passions for enhancing both Baylor University and the Waco community.
"You want it to have an economic impact on our city," she said. "Our hotels, restaurants and businesses will all benefit. And I want our visitors to see that we are a great host, to go away with a great experience and a desire to come back. Facilities make a difference in so many ways, and that's why we chose to give back in this way."
"I'm thrilled to have families like the Hurds and the Hawkins involved in our program," Knoll said. "They have a commitment and passion for Baylor, and it's a real honor to have their names associated with our team. We wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are without them. Their friendship and their support is special, and I think visitors are going to be blown away when they see what they’ve built here."
While the facilities were the largest piece of the puzzle, putting together a successful bid required careful consideration of details large and small--and demonstrating why Baylor University and the city of Waco will make great hosts to thousands of out of town guests. The collaboration of many great city organizations and Baylor University departments, combined with the stellar reputation of Baylor Tennis, gave Baylor a built-in advantage. Nick Joos, executive associate athletic director for external affairs, put Baylor's successful bid together.
"We knew this would be a tough nut to crack," Joos said, "but we also knew that we could put together a strong bid. Waco is a great tennis town, and we've always received high marks when we've hosted NCAA regionals and Big 12 tournaments in the past."
The proximity of hotels, dining and entertainment to the event site was a major selling point; teams will never be more than a few minutes away from any location for lodging, practices, and events. The assistance of the city on issues like transportation and hospitality also greatly enhanced Baylor's bid. For Waco as well as Baylor, landing the Championships is a tremendous opportunity to shine to guests from around the nation and will be a boost to the local economy at hotels, restaurants and businesses.
Baylor's bid also demonstrated attention to ensuring a smooth operation of every last detail, as Joos said, "making sure every 'i' is dotted and every 't' is crossed."
Those details include transportation--Baylor will run a full shuttle service from all campus satellite garages and is partnering with the city to run a shuttle service between downtown and campus--and facility enhancements that continued throughout the spring. Baylor's bid also included host families throughout the community for all 32 teams. While host families are a staple each year, no matter where the Championships are held, Baylor took the concept a step further-some host families will provide the opportunity for teams to see more of the community, hosting players and coaches on houseboats for meals on Lake Waco.
"We were told when we secured the bid that we had the best bid of any school being considered," McCaw said. "The hard work of a lot of people made this a reality."
While the Championships are a great reward for the coaches, players and administrators whose tireless efforts brought them here, they're also a reward for the fans, who will get the chance to cheer on the green and gold when it matters most. And it's fans that can help Baylor land another exciting benefit of hosting a Championship for the first time--hosting another one in the future.
"This is a great chance to yet again showcase the University, the Athletic Department, and our tennis program," Hurd said. "I'd like the 2015 NCAA Tennis Championships to be the best NCAA Championships ever. It's going to require fan participation, volunteer efforts and transportation for the players and fans. But it's also the fan experience, in our hotels and restaurants--how they're treated and welcomed--the hospitality from Baylor and Waco. That entire experience will determine our success and our ability to host again."
"I know that every NCAA championship has been graded on community support," coach Scrivano said. "At the end of the day, that's what we talk about in coaches' conferences and committee meetings. How well did the host community support the event? We have the best facilities in the country, and our programs are nationally competitive. That’s two checks right there. The last check on the list--are people going to come out in big numbers to support it? If we can do that, we'll get this event again."
The 2015 NCAA Tennis Championships are yet another validation of Baylor tennis' status as an elite national program, and an exciting payoff on the investments made by benefactors like Mark and Paula Hurd and Jim and Nell Hawkins. They're also a historic first for Baylor. But being in the upper echelon isn’t the ultimate goal. Like the University of Georgia, Baylor hopes to host, and win, national championships regularly. The 2015 Championships are a big step, but still just a step, in reaching Knoll’s ultimate goal--to see Baylor tennis become the best in the nation. Baylor Nation can help make that dream a reality by supporting Baylor Tennis in person at the National Championships in May.