by Ali Jones, 2 November 2011 – From Tennis Recruiting Network
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This article was featured on the Tennis Recruiting Network. The Tennis Recruiting Network puts together the National Recruiting List. Alex Van Cott is #35 on the National Recruiting List for Seniors, Ian is #59.
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It was nothing against the bucolic charms of their native upstate New York, with its wooded hills, rushing brooks and rustic dairy farms. They simply wanted a break from the dreary winters, and the long months of indoor tennis under artificial light.
The 5-star recruits from Unadilla, New York, recently took a major step toward their shared goal of playing college tennis on warm, sun-splashed days by verbally committing to attend Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“It’s the fulfillment of a dream to get to go to a great college,” said Alex Van Cott. “I never thought when we started playing tennis that we’d get this far.”
Ian Van Cott echoes that sentiment. “It’s exciting to know where we’re going to school,” he said, “especially this early in the year.”
How the Van Cotts came to even consider New Orleans as a college destination is a testament to the tennis credentials and interpersonal skills of Tulane head coach Mark Booras. The third-year skipper honed those skills at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he spent the final four of his 10 years as associate head coach.
Booras impressed the Van Cott brothers with his vision for returning Tulane to the ranks of America’s college tennis elite. It was a realm the school perennially occupied before Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in 2005, devastating New Orleans and forcing the suspension of Tulane’s athletic programs.
In 2008, Booras was hired to rebuild Tulane’s men’s tennis program after a three-season hiatus. The international squad he recruited finished the 2009-10 season with a 3-17 dual match record. Last year, Booras’s team won five of its final seven contests to finish the 2011 spring season with an 11-11 dual match record and a No. 9 ranking in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Southern Region.
With the Van Cott brothers, Booras is getting an experienced doubles team and a pair of proven singles players with contrasting games: Alex relies on a big forehand and aggressive tactics, while Ian prefers a patient, grinding approach.
The brothers are at a loss to explain how they developed such divergent styles, or how they got so good growing up in Unadilla (population 4,500), in the foothills of New York’s storied Catskill Mountains.
The brothers stumbled into the sport when they were 4 years old, during a family vacation to Utah. Their parents didn’t play tennis, but one day they left Alex and Ian in the care of a resort teaching pro while they headed off for a hike. The boys liked the game, and they wound up taking a lesson every day for the remainder of the vacation.
Back home in New York they started to hit balls under the supervision of a young instructor named Jed Murray.
“He really made it fun for us,” recalled Alex Van Cott. “We never really had any expectations.”
The brothers were late to the junior tournament scene compared to many of their successful peers, and they didn’t even make their national debut until they were 12 or 13. But by the time they aged up from the 14s division, they had become elite players in the USTA’s Eastern Section.
Harsh winters posed a perennial challenge for the Van Cott brothers. They stayed as sharp as they could by playing indoors a few times a week at a club 20 minutes from their house. About three years ago, their father put a court in an empty warehouse, and that became their primary training facility.
These days, the Van Cotts supplement their warehouse workouts by driving 90 minutes to an indoor club managed by their longtime friend and mentor, Jed Murray. They practice there with teaching pro Philippe Ceas.
The goal for the Van Cott brothers all along was to play college tennis in a warm locale, but their first thought was California. That thinking changed in November 2010 after the brothers met Coach Booras at the Orange Bowl.
“He’s a nice guy, and he seems to really care about his players,” said Ian.
In March, on their way to a national tournament in Mobile, Ala., they made an unofficial visit to Tulane. They were delighted by what they saw on and off the campus, and the exotic culture and spicy cuisine they experienced – not to mention the city’s balmy climate.
“I really liked the campus,” said Alex. “The education is also good. The food is great, and the people are great. You’re not going to get that cultural experience anywhere else.”
On that trip and a subsequent official visit in mid-September, Coach Booras made a deep impression on the brothers.
“He really knows what he wants to do at Tulane and where he wants the program to be,” said Alex. “He said, ‘If you come here, you’ll be part of something special.’ I really liked the idea of rebuilding Tulane, being part of putting the program back together.”
In addition to helping Tulane return to its former place in the NCAA Division I Top 20, the brothers are excited by the prospect of practicing every day with top players – something that has been missing in their years of solitary sparring.
“We’ve gotten good without much structure, by pushing each other,” said Alex. “My goal is to get a lot better. The room for improvement is huge.”
In the meantime, the brothers are hard at work preparing themselves for the rigors of college tennis. Each is about 5 feet 10 and 150 pounds, so they’re spending time in the gym to get stronger. On the court, Alex is working on constructing better points and grooving his big serve, while Ian is looking to add more pop and aggression to his game.
The Van Cotts are looking forward to expanding their pool of practice partners at Tulane, but they are even more excited to have the opportunity to play on the same college team.
“We’ve always been a good doubles team,” said Alex. “We’ve always been really close. It’s going to be fun.”