coach Ken Alrutz, right, teaches his son, Graham, a few techniques on the
Wesleyan tennis courts Aug. 24.
Tennis Coach Ken Alrutz Brings Experience, Excellence and Passion to Sport
Q: Ken, you will be
entering your third year as the men’s and women’s head tennis coach. What
attracted you to Wesleyan?
A: When my wife and I contemplated a move, I decided I wanted to coach both
women and men, to work at an academically distinguished school, and to
finish my career at a small institution similar to the place where I began
my professional life.
Q: What months does the tennis season span? When do you begin NESCAC
A: Wesleyan’s tennis season commences the first day of classes in the fall,
runs through the New England Women’s Invitational Tournament in late
October. It begins again on February 15, and concludes with the NESCAC
tournament the final weekend of April. Of course, the NCAA championship
tournament takes a month longer, and my teams plan to qualify for that event
Q: Who are your leading student-athletes? Do they play other sports as well?
A: Last season, six first-year women played significant roles on the team
that posted an 11-4 record: Rachael Ghorbani ‘09, Ania Preneta ‘09, Madalina
Ursu ‘09, Alexandra Sirois ‘09, Emily Fish ‘09 and Lizzie Collector ‘09.
They, along with Tori Santoro ’07, who spent last spring in Paris, will form
the nucleus of the squad, though I expect important contributions from
newcomers Anika Fischer ‘10, Meredith Holmes ‘10, and Casey Simchik ‘10, who
will also be a member of the squash team.
Among the starting men returning from the team that went 10-5 are Jack
Rooney ‘07, Tallen Todorovich ’07, Michael Frank ‘08, Pauri Pandian ’08,
Matthew O’Connell ’09, Alejandro Alvarado ’09, and Paul Gerdes ’09. Joining
them and their teammates are two tremendous first years: George Pritzker ’10
and Miles Krieger ’10.
Q: Where were you coaching prior to Wesleyan?
A: Immediately before joining the Wesleyan staff, I served as the head men's
and women's tennis coach at Miami University-Hamilton for three years, while
also acting as a tennis professional at the Riverside Racquet Club in
Hamilton, Ohio. I was the head men's tennis coach at NCAA Division I Miami
University in Oxford, Ohio from 1996 to 1999, and began my head coaching
career at NCAA Division I Virginia Military Institute from 1987 until 1996.
Q: What were some of your biggest achievements at these schools?
A: At Miami-Hamilton, my women’s and men’s teams won Ohio Regional Campus
Conference Championships in 2002 and 2004. I led Miami University in Oxford
to the Mid-American Conference men’s title in 1997. My coaching colleagues
honored me with the conference’s Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1999, and the
Midwest section of the United States Professional Tennis Association, of
which I am a certified member, named me Team Coach of the Year a few months
later. During the spring of 1990, VMI honored me with the Institute’s
Distinguished Coaching Award; in 1992, I received the Southern Conference’s
Tennis Coach-of-the-Year Award as well as the Mid-Atlantic Professional
Tennis Association’s Collegiate Coach-of-the-Year Award in 1995. I am the
first coach of any sport in VMI’s long athletic history to win one hundred
contests, and my Division I squads at VMI and Miami saw twelve straight
Q: What is your overall coaching record?
A: My cumulative coaching record stands at 199-116, or 63 percent. More
important than anything else, though, all of my teams boast a 100 percent
Q: You received a Distinguished Teaching Award in 1994 from the Virginia
Military Institute and Honored Professor Awards from 2000-04 from Miami's
Associated Student Government. What were you teaching?
A: At VMI and Miami, I taught English full time in addition to coaching
tennis. While my ostensible specialty is Victorian literature, I especially
enjoy offering various courses in prose fiction, including Modern and
Contemporary American Novels, Nineteenth-Century British Novel and
International Short Fiction. In fact, I earlier taught English at Ripon and
Lynchburg Colleges; at the former, I was also a volunteer English professor
in the Wisconsin prison system.
Q: Where did you go to college and what are your degrees in?
A: I earned my undergraduate degree in English education at California State
College, which I attended on a tennis scholarship, and did my graduate work
in English at the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation subject was
the Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley.
Q: For the non-tennis audience, can you what skills are needed to be a
tennis player, and can anyone basically do this?
A: Tennis is an attractive spectator and participatory sport for a number of
reasons. Playing the game at a high level demands keen hand-eye
coordination, fast reflexes, excellent physical conditioning, and the
ability to remain calm under pressure. One of the most appealing aspects of
tennis for the non-professional is the many levels of the game; that is, no
matter players’ ages or ability levels, they can find suitable practice
partners or opponents.
Q: Is teaching the sport difficult?
A: I have given thousands of hours of tennis lessons in the past 26 years,
and I guarantee that I can teach anyone to have fun with the game. When do
you want to do a lesson?
Q: What classes do you teach as an adjunct professor?
A: I teach beginning and intermediate tennis courses here. My students are
eager to learn, to improve their skills, so we have a great time.
Q: You have been on the Prince advisory staff for 18 years? What is involved
A: My relationship with Prince has been a very happy one. Throughout the year, Prince sponsors clinics at tournament sites. Many times, I have worked these events
with such world-ranked players as Michael Chang, Guillermo Coria, Albert
Juan Carlos Ferrero, Jan-Michael Gambell, Xavier Malisse and Vince Spadea.
Q: Have you coached anyone who went on to be a “famous” tennis star?
A: Quite a few of my collegiate players have broken into the touring
professional ranks. I am especially proud of coaching two young men while
they played Davis Cup for their countries: Tunisia and the Bahamas. All fans
recognize the four major tournaments—The Australian, the French, Wimbledon,
and the U.S. Open—but Davis Cup, the international team competition for men,
and the women’s Federation Cup, strike me as the most significant events of
the tennis calendar. Being selected to play for one’s country transcends all
other tennis accomplishments.
Q: Do you have any tennis plans for the larger Wesleyan
A: Yes. I want to involve as many members of the Wesleyan
family in tennis as possible in the coming year. First of all, my
teams are dedicating our fall season to the Susan G. Komen Breast
Cancer Foundation. Next, I want to initiate some type of tennis
tournament open to everyone at the school. People can pair with
varsity team members! My teams and I will also donate a Saturday of
introductory tennis lessons.Finally, my daugher, Rikki, and I want
to offer Cardio Tennis classes here. Sponsored by the USTA, this
activity combines tennis and fitness.
Q: What are your other interests?
A: I still follow my hometown Pirates and Steelers, though I am more
interested in attending athletic contests at Wesleyan and supporting my
My major hobbies, if that is the correct term, are reading and writing. I am
always in the middle of reading a novel or some type of history. Might I
recommend such contemporary novels as Ellen Miller’s Like Being Killed, Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin, and Alice McDermott’s
Charming Billy. I
also have four completed novels of my own in my desk drawer. My students and
family continually urge me to publish them. Who knows? That might soon
Q: Tell me about your family. Any young tennis players?
A: My wife, Kellylee, and I will celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary on
September 5. She is a classical pianist, a woman of remarkable talents and
the person who gives my life meaning. Our daughter, Rikki, attended a
university in Paris and is now doing graduate work at Harvard. In addition
to being a tremendous teacher and tennis player—she won a major tournament
at Forest Hills, the former site of the U.S. Open, last summer—she speaks
seven languages and is a professional interpreter. Our 11-year-old son,
Graham, lives for art and tennis. He inherited his mother’s artistic
ability, and he is an extremely accomplished tennis player, who dreams of
playing on the international circuit in a few years.
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection