Chris Young had to be disappointed as he walked off the courts on the campus of the University of Tulsa on May 24. His Cowgirls had come so painstakingly close to a national championship, to within a match point, only to see it slip away into the hands of powerhouse Stanford. One more point and they would have been champions. One more point and the thousands of orange-clad supporters who had completely overrun TU's tennis complex would have erupted.
And yet, even in the wake of that loss, it wasn’t disappointment that dominated Young’s post-match comments. Sure, he was disappointed, but he was also amazed, thankful, and even excited.
“I’m sure at some point, I’ll think about the fact that we had match point on number two in the second set and that might bother me a little bit, but I mean you guys all saw the crowds and the teams compete. It’s unbelievable,” Young said during his press conference following the championship match.
To understand his comments that day, you have to understand how far he’s come, how far the women’s tennis program at Oklahoma State has come, and the impact they’re having on the tennis world. They lost that match to Stanford, but it was another step on a journey that began years ago. A journey that’s changing everything.
It’s been a long journey, one that began with countless hour-long drives. When Young first came to OSU in 2009, it was the only school in the Big 12 that didn’t have its own tennis facility. The tennis teams drove an hour one way to practice each day. Due to shortcomings and difficulties like that, many of those around Young were not convinced OSU was a good job.
“I had many people tell me, ‘Well, Oklahoma State doesn’t care about tennis. They’re never going to care about tennis.’ ” Young told the crowd at the Cowboy Caravan in Tulsa last week as he recalled being warned about taking the job all those years ago. Fast forward seven years and the Cowgirls just finished the 2015-2016 campaign with a 29-5 record, an 18-match winning streak, and a Big 12 Championship. They competed for a national championship in front of a record-setting crowd of crazed fans. What changed? Everything.
It all started with Michael and Anne Greenwood. The couple, both OSU alums, chose to make the lead donation for a new tennis complex. A project that would total $17.5 million dollars and result in one of the finest collegiate tennis facilities in the country now sitting on OSU’s campus. The impact of the Greenwood’s generosity is difficult to overstate.
“Facilities don’t change everything,” Young said at the Caravan, “but it shows a commitment. When you walk in, you can see this is something that’s important here.”
No, facilities don’t change everything. Building the Greenwood Tennis Center did not guarantee success. In fact, the Cowgirls lost their very first match in the new facility. But a shiny new complex wasn’t all that OSU tennis had going for it at the time, either. It had a talented and driven coach who happened to be a native son of the state of Oklahoma and, in his own words, wanted to “bring tennis back to Oklahoma.” Well Chris, its back. In fact, its bigger and better than ever. There is a buzz around the tennis program that hasn’t been there before. Chris Young hasn’t just brought tennis back, he’s changed it. And he’s still changing it.
As Larry Reece put it at the Caravan, “Chris Young is building an army of fans who didn’t know they cared about tennis.” Count me in. Count a lot of us in. The support this program has received has been tremendous. The atmosphere in Tulsa for the national championship match was electric. And people are noticing. Here’s what Young had to say at the Caravan about the national perception of OSU’s program.
"Everywhere I've gone this summer, all anyone wants to talk about is the type of support that we get. Whoever thought that Oklahoma State was going to be a tennis school? But in the tennis world, that's what all the coaches and all the recruits are really envious of, the support that we have and what they saw in Tulsa. We played Stanford, lost to them, that’s a Stanford team that has won 18 of the 34 women's championships ever played, and their coach, who has won the majority of them, said it was the best atmosphere they've ever played in during an NCAA tournament.”
The Cowgirls have had a hand in this transformation as well. They’re the ones battling on the court, winning matches, and making it further than ever before. And they took full advantage of the atmosphere at the national championship. The fans who showed up to support them were greeted with an exciting and interactive brand of tennis. The players, led by Katarina Adamovic, engaged the crowd and induced repeated roars that resulted in warnings from officials due to the many matches being played simultaneously.
When asked about Adamovic at the Caravan, Young said, “Kat became an OSU legend here in Tulsa. The things she did and the way she got the crowd involved. When the match was replayed on CBS, everyone kept saying her interaction with the crowd was so special."
And it wasn’t just Kat. The rest of the team followed her lead. They really could not have put on a better showcase of their sport. There were likely hundreds of fans there that day who were attending their first tennis match, but for many, it won’t be their last. And they’re impacting more than the OSU fanbase. The effects of their efforts and the support they’ve raised are being felt throughout collegiate tennis. They’re pushing the envelope and, according to Young, are the driving force behind conversations being had nationwide about rule changes.
“I was in San Diego at a national tournament this week and we had a big meeting with a group of coaches. They're actually talking about fan rules of behavior because of how loud our fans were and people want to be able to let that happen more. What everyone said at that coaches meeting was, 'We need fan support like Oklahoma State has,’” Young told the group of supporters at the Caravan.
Young is quick to credit others for the success. He pointed the attention of the crowd in Tulsa toward the Greenwoods and the team.
“Mike and Anne Greenwood changed my life, my career, and I'm forever indebted to them and so are our kids. We have three seniors who have completely changed our program.”
They happen to have a pretty good coach, too. From a team with no on-campus home to the program everyone in the sport is talking about nationally, Chris Young, the Greenwoods, and the Cowgirls have changed the face of OSU tennis. Together, they’re changing the whole game.
“Not every kid grows up wanting to come to Stillwater, Oklahoma,” Young said, “but when they see the types of programs that we have and the facilities and they get on campus and they meet the people, it's a game changer."
Chris Young is now one of those people. So, too, are the Greenwoods and the Cowgirls tennis team.