KWU sports information
Josh Molino’s quest to organize an indoor tennis championship for NAIA member schools is about to come true.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) NAIA National Team Indoor Championships will be played Feb. 3-5 at the Overland Park Racquet Club in Overland Park, with Kansas Wesleyan as the host institution and Molino as tournament director.
It will be the culmination of a more than three-year effort for Molino, which began formulating the concept with others in 2019. The process, however, has taken longer than anticipated.
“This is a collaboration between the NAIA coaches and the network we’ve built at Wesleyan through my presence at national championships, working on the tournament committee, and with USTA (United States Tennis Association) and Missouri Valley (Association).” said Molino , who is in his fifth season as a coach at KWU. “We networked with many coaches and came up with the idea.”
Planning, however, came to an abrupt halt along with everything else in 2020 with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Once the pandemic eased, the ITA’s Operations Committee accepted the offers last year and voted on a host institution: Wesleyan was the choice for the event’s first three years, largely thanks to the efforts of Molino and KWU.
“Wesleyan was very supportive of us and we felt we could produce a really beautiful event,” he said. “We got the support of the boosters and part of our administration and our athletic department.”
The planners had a ready-made blueprint for the event.
“(NCAA) Divisions I, II and III have already put the bones together on what this was going to be like,” Molino said. “We took their format, the things they’ve done well and the things they maybe lack, and we put together an idea.
“How to host, what’s centrally located, and what’s affordable—cost for NAIA schools is the big thing. We talked about what it would be like, how many teams, how many nights (accommodation).”
Finding a suitable facility was the first job and Overland Park Racquet Club with its 14 indoor courts looked ideal for the 16 men’s and women’s teams to compete in the event.
“It’s the host site for the 16 and 18 USTA National Indoor boys,” Molino said.
“They have a great history of hosting events. The location is fantastic: 92nd and Metcalf is in that downtown with beautiful hotels and restaurants.
“It’s a central location for teams from all over the country. Easy flying and easy driving and a facility used to hosting national championships. We thought it was the best place to be.”
Formatting the tournament was easy, according to Molino. Participants were chosen based on the team’s final standings from the 2022 NAIA National Championships: The top seven received invitations, and the wild card played three games in a bracketed competition.
“It’s a regular college format, a heads-up doubles with three doubles and six singles,” Molino said. “ITA created the criteria of who would play and the host school gets the wild card. We will actually be the first indoor league to have both genders at the same site on the same weekend.”
Both KWU teams have tough tasks in their first games against Georgia Gwinnett College, who won the NAIA men’s and women’s national championships last spring. Play starts at 18:30 on February 3 for both teams.
“It’s a challenge, it’s a really big challenge,” Molino said. “But to take it to the next level, we have to show that we can play and compete with the best teams.
“We want to get into that elite group, and it’s really difficult if you’re not consistently qualified for the domestic tournament. We thought this was a great opportunity to show who we are and what we do.”
Indoor tennis offers some challenges that playing outdoors does not, according to Molino. The Coyotes practice and occasionally play games on the two courts inside The Pines Tennis Park in Salina.
“If you want to be a good tennis player you have to play on every surface in all elements, but there’s something unique about playing indoors in an enclosed environment,” he said. “It’s louder, it’s faster, points are crucial off serve, so it’s definitely a bigger game.”
Playing Kansas City is an added bonus.
“We have a couple of guys from the Overland Park area, they’ll see time,” Molino said. “This is a shining light for us and for our alumni because there have been a lot of people who have come here, played here and put in the time.
“This is almost like the highlight for our program because it’s been a lot of work, and now we’re at the forefront of college tennis.”
Molino will use the Indoor Nationals as a springboard for the Coyotes’ spring semester portion of the schedule.
“These should be the top three opponents we see all year, unless we get to Mobile (Alabama, for the NAIA tournament),” he said. “That doesn’t detract from the (Kansas Conference) because it’s terrific. We feel really good about taking up the gauntlet and then being able to work our way through the conference.”