The great tennis melting pot

How an outstanding mix of cultures helps propel the Ferris State Tennis teams to success

Graphic by: Dylan Bowden | Production Manager

Success in college athletics depends on establishing a winning culture, but for the Ferris tennis programs, it’s about molding many cultures into one.

Eight countries are represented across both the men’s and women’s tennis teams, creating a blend of both talent and cultures. Many collegiate players have difficulty building relationships with teammates from different states, but the Ferris tennis teams have to build relationships with teammates from different countries who don’t share the first same language.

Spain, Germany, France, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada, India, and America make up the eight countries that are represented on the teams. This brings an interesting perspective for all of these players who might have more in common with each other than they first realize.

With multiple athletes coming from the same country, it can be easier for them to transition to a life far away from home. But for senior Patricia Martin Gomez, it was a tougher road for her. Being the only person on the team from Spain, she came onto the team knowing little English.

“Traveling to a whole new country by myself without speaking the language was the bravest and best thing I’ve ever done,” Gomez said. “I’ve met people from all around the globe and made forever friendships.”

Coming into a tennis program that she’d be unfamiliar with was a challenge in and of itself, but pursuing a higher education while not knowing the language makes it that much more impressive. But the challenge has helped her grow as a person, improving her ability to create relationships with people with differing perspectives.

Gomez adopting the culture within Ferris tennis has been one of the main reasons why the program has seen success in the past years. Many people on the team share this same experience as her with their athletic careers.

“Studying at Ferris and playing for the women’s tennis team not only has shown me the American culture, but also many other cultures from teammates and people I’ve met along the way that are from different parts of the world,” Gomez said.

On the men’s side, senior Josh McDermott has been through a lot. Transferring from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, McDermott’s journey to Big Rapids looks a lot different than the other players on the team.

Through Platform Sports Management, he was able to find a place in UMSL’s program. But when transfer time came around, he only spent a week in the portal before he got in contact with Bulldog head coach Mark Doren.

“Within like a week I was already in touch with Coach Doren,” McDermott said. “We hit it off straight away on that first call, so I was pretty much ready.”

The success that he has been part of in the program gives him great memories to look back to. And in his last year as a Bulldog, senior day gave him a chance to reflect on the accomplishments that he’s achieved as well as how far the teams have come since he’s been at FSU.

A year that sticks out to him specifically was his first year with the team, a season that was cut short due to COVID-19. However, the extended off-season gave the team more time to better their themselves on and off the court.

“We also sort of matured a little, and we just have a great team culture and work ethic now,” McDermott said.

The work ethic among teammates is a big reason for both teams’ winning records. Adding that to Doren’s focus on motivating the teams and staying positive is a recipe for success.

Doren himself is an alum to the Ferris tennis program. As a 2006 graduate of Professional Tennis Management, he took over the program as an interim head coach in the 2018-2019 season. He directed practices, traveling, scheduling, recruiting and served on the GLIAC Player of the Week committee.

That first year he made an impact, helping the men’s team to a late season run to the NCAA regional final. He also coached the women to a GLIAC tournament berth, and two league place improvements from the previous year.

“When I first started here at Ferris my number one goal was to maintain the success the men were having but also bring back women’s tennis to the success it had in the 80’s and 90’s,” Doren said. “To get here the culture I wanted to create was one of confidence and team-work.”

A big task ahead of him was to bring Ferris tennis back to the success it once had, but focusing on getting the players to buy into the team was the first key. With his extensive background in team sports, Doren knew building on their confidence as a whole would set the foundation for the future.

Prepping for the future also means securing recruits to fill the spots that are left open by the departing seniors. Division II athletics proposes an interesting challenge for coaches and players when it comes to recruiting.

A lower budget means coaching staffs rely heavily on film, phone calls, and relationships with coaches on the prep level. Not to mention an unwarranted stigma on DII athletics held by high school seniors who focus their energy on going to the Division I level.

“Recruiting for college tennis and especially Division II is a bit of a gamble,” Doren said. “We don’t have the resources to fly not just all around the country but around the world.”

On the bright side, recruiting outside of the United States gives the team a chance to find talent that that has gone unnoticed. Doren has done very well getting recruits from outside America.

Both teams are full of skillful players who can do damage from court 1 to court 4. And when matches are pushed to the final sets, Doren is able to give valued advice for the teams to finish strong.

“Although college tennis we win as a team, the players are often out there on their own.  So I wanted to create environment where they put team first,” Doren said.

A group like the Ferris team is a rare sight, with so many different personalities and cultures coming together it would seem impossible they would be able to get along. But the established culture in the program eases the intimidation that the incoming players face when coming into new scenarios.

“I came to college in the US without knowing anyone here, which was a little intimidating at first, but the team was very welcoming, and we quickly built great relationships with each other,” Jan Koupil of Sweden said.

A combination of the shared love of tennis, Doren’s coaching ability, and being able to find commonalities with each other help make these teams great. Especially with the latter part of the season underway, it’s no better time than now for them to rely on one another to have another deep post-season run.

With the men’s team sitting at 14-2, and the women’s at 9-5, they’ve both locked a spot in the championships. However, the teams know to never settle, and striving for a high-seed in the tournament is what they are working for.

“For the men’s team it’s all about committing to our game styles and trusting we can win with them. For the women’s team we need to get healthy and focus on the middle parts of our game,” Doren said.

Adversity this late in the season is welcomed by the team. Compared to moving across the globe to pursue a career in college athletics, tennis is the easy part.