Former standout player is back coaching at her alma mater
By Dan Johnson, ITA Director of Communications & Marketing
TEMPE, Ariz. – All roads for Alison Ojeda were always going to bring her back to one place.
Ojeda is one of the most-decorated women’s tennis players at the University of Tennessee. Playing from 1998-2002, Ojeda won over 100 matches in both singles and doubles, earned national Top 10 singles and doubles rankings, while helping guide the Volunteers to an NCAA Semifinal appearance her senior year.
Upon graduation, Ojeda pursued a career in coaching, and spent time as an assistant coach at Texas A&M (2002-04) and Alabama (2005), before taking over the head coaching job at Middle Tennessee from 2005-2010. From 2010-2016, Ojeda served as the associate women’s tennis head coach at Baylor University.
“Every decision I made from a coaching standpoint was to help me get back (to Knoxville),” said Ojeda. “Coming back to Tennessee was my dream job.”
In July 2016, Ojeda received a call from her former coach, Mike Patrick, offering her a role as the women’s tennis assistant coach, with the understanding that when Patrick ultimately decided to retire, she’d take over the reins.
Four months later, on Nov. 21, Ojeda was named the seventh head coach in program history following Patrick’s resignation.
“Things happened quickly, but it wasn’t a surprise, either,” said Ojeda, who is one of six former Tennessee student-athletes now serving as a head coach at the university. “Coming in knowing that the plan was for me to take over for Mike, that definitely helped with the transition, even though it happened faster than anyone anticipated. Mike has been a great mentor to me and I’m really glad that we were able to spend my first few months back on campus together so that I could continue to learn from him.”
Ojeda said the support she’s received from people in and around the University of Tennessee community has been great.
“It feels like a family on campus; the people I’ve been surrounded with have been incredible,” said Ojeda.
Being back at Tennessee means that Ojeda is back competing in the SEC. She knows that her team has a lot of work to do to regain the glory she saw as a player in the early 2000’s.
“There’s nine teams in the SEC currently ranked in the national Top 25. You have to bring in players that want to compete at that level,” said Ojeda. “We have a ridiculously tough conference, but we won’t run from that; we’ll embrace the challenge.”
Ojeda has already begun to shape the culture of her program, starting with how the team trains and practices.
“I felt like our fitness needed to be better, so that was one of the first things I worked at changing right when I got back on campus,” said Ojeda, who has received three ITA Regional Assistant Coach of the Year awards (2004, 2012, 2015). “When you look at how other sports practice, every athlete knows their practice schedule and why they are working on a certain element of their sport. So many tennis coaches just get on the court and go by feel; I certainly did that back in the day, too. The student-athlete is different from when I was in school and they want to know why they are doing things, so we as coaches need to evolve. Now, if we do drills that focus on defense, my message to the girls is to embrace being on defense. It’s been awesome that they have a goal each time they come to practice.”
The buy-in from the players to Ojeda’s methods has been all-in, and already the coach is seeing the rewards.
“The kids took everything we’re doing (in practice) out onto the court last week and I was so impressed by that,” said Ojeda. “What was once uncomfortable has now become the new normal.”
Ojeda recognizes that the Volunteers remain a work in progress, but is excited by what the future holds for the women’s tennis program.
“We have to raise the bar and set the standard, and that starts with every practice. If a coach truly invests in their student-athletes, you are never surprised by what you’re getting out of them.”
Tennessee plays 12 of its first 14 matches at home, so the fans in Knoxville will have plenty of opportunities to come out and see Ojeda’s team in action.
“It’s great for us to get the community out here as soon as possible and for the girls to develop that pride in playing for Tennessee and defending their home court,” said Ojeda.
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