Bradley’s grand indoor tennis experiment Saturday didn’t draw the crowds the school was hoping for, but otherwise, it was a smashing success.
In an effort to draw attention to and gain financial support for its recharged women’s tennis program, BU staged a pair of day/night dual meets against Saint Louis and IUPUI on three modular, synthetic courts set up inside Renaissance Coliseum.
The inaugural Coliseum Classic was believed to be the first time anywhere that dual college meets with multiple courts have been held in a basketball facility. Bradley split the matches, losing to Saint Louis and beating IUPUI.
“It was a pretty cool experience,” said BU tennis coach Matt Tyler. “Originally we were thinking, ‘How could we play more tennis on campus when the weather’s not as nice?’ We were able to work with Flex Court International to rent the courts and it worked beautifully. I’m blown away by how good it looks, especially with the (BU) branding they did for us. It’s visually pretty stunning.”
The playing surface took some getting used to, but the teams all had a practice round before the meets.
“It plays like a clay court which is a little slower,” said Bradley’s No. 1 player Ariel Dechter. “So it was a little bit of an adjustment, but really fun. I didn’t think you could fit three courts in here. But geometry isn’t my strong suit. I’m an accounting major.”
Saint Louis’ 16-year coach is Peoria native Jon Zych, who starred at Richwoods and Illinois.
“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” he said. “It’s unique because it gives the players a feeling that they’re on a stage like a play or a big-time basketball arena. To do something like this is a great opportunity for our kids. We’re so excited to be a part of it.”
Zych said the surface played “differently than he was used to,” but his team was prepared for it having had practice time.
“The balls play like a clay court,” he said. “We told them to move your feet and adjust your backswing. But we always try to take the surface out of the equation no matter where we play. It’s a special opportunity to compete having (spectators) looking down at you.”
Attendance for the early meet vs. SLU, which began at 9 a.m., was about 75. The evening session against IUPUI started at 6 p.m. and drew 353, far short of the record of 1,032 for a women’s dual match (last year between Georgia and Florida) that Bradley had targeted.
“It was still the largest home crowd for a Bradley home tennis match in history,” said Bradley associate athletic director for communications and operations Bobby Parker. “This was a great chance to showcase Bradley tennis. We’ve heard nothing but positives from everyone.”
Despite not breaking the attendance record, Bradley tennis benefited. There was exposure — from the local media as well as from an ESPN3 video stream of the IUPUI match.