Josh Molino’s ambition to host an indoor tennis championship for NAIA member schools is about to come to fruition.
The inaugural Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) NAIA Indoor Team Championship will be played February 3-5 at the Overland Park Racket Club in Overland Park. Kansas Wesleyan will be the host organization and Molino will be the tournament director.
This will be the culmination of more than three years of work by Molino, who began formulating the concept with others in 2019. However, the process took longer than anyone expected.
“This is a partnership between the NAIA Coaches and the network we have built in Wesleyan through my National Championships, Tournament Committee, and USTA and Missouri Valley Tennis Association,” Molino said. , who has been working as a coach at KWU for the fifth season. “We talked to a lot of coaches and we had an idea.”
However, planning came to an abrupt halt along with everything else in 2020 with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Once the pandemic eased, an ITA working committee accepted applications and voted on the host organization last year – Wesleyan was chosen during the first three years of the event, largely due to the efforts of Molino and KWU.
“Wesleyan supported us all the way and we felt like we could put on a really good event,” he said. “We got booster support, something from our administration and our sports department.”
The organizers had a ready plan for the event.
“(NCAA) Divisions I, II and III have already put together what it’s going to look like,” Molino said. “We took their format, what they did well and what they might be lacking, and brought the idea together.
“How to organize what is central and what is affordable – cost is a big deal for NAIA schools. We talked about what it would look like, how many teams, how many nights (accommodation).”
Finding the right venue was the number one challenge and the Overland Park Racquet Club, with its 14 indoor courts, seemed ideal for the 16 men’s and women’s teams that would compete in the event.
“This is a USTA National Indoor boys 16 and 18 host site,” Molino said.
“They have a lot of experience in hosting events. The location is great – 92nd street and Metcalfe is in that center with beautiful hotels and restaurants.
“It’s a central location for teams across the country. Easy flying and easy riding, as well as a facility that is used for national championships. We felt it was the best place to live.”
According to Molino, organizing the tournament was easy. Participants were selected according to the final team standings of the 2022 NAIA National Championships – the top seven who received invitations and a wild card who played three matches in the tournament bracket.
“It’s a regular collegiate format, a doubles match, which consists of three doubles and six singles matches,” Molino said. “ITA has set criteria for who will play and the host school gets a wildcard. In fact, we will be the first indoor championship where both genders compete in the same venue on the same weekend.”
Both KWU teams faced tough challenges in their first games against Georgia Gwinnett College, who won the NAIA Men’s and Women’s National Championship last spring. The game will start at 18:30 on February 3 for both teams.
“It’s a challenge, it’s a really big challenge,” Molino said. “But to get to the next level, we have to show that we can play and compete with these top teams.
“We want to move into this elite group and it’s really difficult if you don’t always get into the national tournament. We felt it was the perfect opportunity to show who we are and what we do.”
According to Molino, indoor tennis offers some challenges that outdoor play does not. Coyotes train and sometimes play matches on two courts at The Pines Tennis Park in Salina.
“If you want to be a good tennis player you have to play on any surface in all elements, but there is something unique about playing indoors,” he said. “It’s louder, it’s faster, points are critical off the pitch, so it’s definitely a more important game.”
Playing in Kansas City is an added bonus.
“We have a couple of guys from the Overland Park area who are going to see the time,” Molino said. “This is a bright light for us and our graduates, because many people have passed here, played here and devoted time.
“This seems like a peak moment for our program because a lot of work has been done and we are now at the forefront of college tennis.”
Molino will use the Indoor Nationals as a spring semester springboard for the Coyotes schedule.
“These should be the top three contenders we see throughout the year, unless we get to Mobile, Alabama, at the NAIA tournament,” he said. “It doesn’t detract from (the Kansas Conference) because it’s huge. We feel very good accepting the challenge and then going through the conference.”