In a five-year span, the Yale women’s tennis team has seen both three consecutive Ivy Championship titles and three different head coaches. Days after the conclusion of the 2016 season — which saw a drop to last place in the Ivy League — it remains undecided whether interim head coach Matej Zlatkovic’s position will be made permanent for the 2016–17 season.
Turnover in the program began when the entire Yale coaching staff, led by former head coach Danielle McNamara, left the team at the end of the 2013–14 season. Taka Bertrand and Zlatkovic took over as head and assistant coach, respectively, for the 2014–15 season, but when Bertrand stepped down from her position at the end of her first and only season at Yale, Zlatkovic — who had then only been with Yale for that season — took the helm as interim head coach for this past season.
Senior Associate Athletic Director Jeremy Makins, the administrator in charge of Yale’s tennis programs, said the Athletic Department as a whole will review all aspects of the women’s tennis program at the end of the academic year, which he said is the standard procedure for all programs. Zlatkovic, who was named interim head coach 10 months ago on June 12, 2015, said he has been told the same by the Yale athletics administration.
After a full year of playing with their interim head coach, players on the team cited difficulty with adjusting to a new head coach for each of the past two seasons, but were largely positive on Zlatkovic as a coach.
“I honestly have no idea what is going on with the head coach position, but I personally would love for [Zlatkovic] to stay on,” captain Ree Ree Li ’16 said. “He was unfortunately thrown into a difficult situation with the team being the largest it has ever been and not having a secure coaching position, but despite it all, he has approached every day with a positive attitude and focused on making the team better and happier.”
When Zlatkovic was named interim head coach, he had served as an assistant coach for one year under Bertrand. In an interview with the News last September, Zlatkovic called the new position “a bit of a surprise,” adding that he was not informed of the specific circumstances regarding Bertrand’s departure.
Players said at the time they also did not know the circumstances, though Li said in an interview that same month that Bertrand “was not the best fit for Yale.” Zlatkovic, both then and now, reiterated his positive outlook on his current position.
“I appreciate the department on trusting me running the team this year,” Zlatkovic said. “We had a lot of ups, for example winning [against] Rice University and Columbia University. I really enjoyed running the team and working with this group of student-athletes.”
Li said the change of head coaches has been “definitely difficult” for the team, especially given that all coaches have different coaching styles to which players must adapt.
“I haven’t really had a coach who has been a steady coach here, only the coach [McNamara] who recruited me, but she left, so I don’t know what it’s like,” Elizabeth Zordani ’18 said. “All I’ve known is having new coaches, it’s always been in a transition phase. It’s tough.”
Still, Li said the players have managed to maintain the important aspects of the team’s culture, and adapting to Zlatkovic’s coaching methods in his first year as head coach has been an “enjoyable process.”
Li also praised Zlatkovic’s hardworking and positive attitude, as well as his commitment to his players’ well-being. Zordani expressed similar sentiments, and added that the team was relieved to have Zlatkovic as interim head coach because he was a “familiar face” given his prior role as assistant coach.
Coaching changes for the Bulldogs have coincided with a significant drop in the Ivy League standings. Yale entered the 2013–14 season atop the Ivy League table with an ITA No. 36 ranking after its third straight conference title. But in the last three seasons, Yale has fallen to second, to a three-way tie for fifth, to this year tied for last place with a 2–5 Ivy record.
Yale’s slide, however, may be due in part to the increased level of competition throughout the Ivy League. While just four teams represented the conference in the final 2013 ITA top 75 rankings, this year the Ivy League was the only Division I conference with all teams ranked in the latest ITA release. Yale was ranked No. 71, the lowest in the Ancient Eight.
Though Zlatkovic is awaiting an official decision from the athletics department on a potential future at Yale, he has already begun thinking about plans to improve the team for 2016–17.
“In the future we will work on transitioning from doubles to singles,” Zlatkovic said. “We have had very good success in doubles and we need to transform that into the singles. Furthermore, we have to be physically, mentally and tactically prepared to play through all four weeks of the Ivy League season, since our league is the only league in Division I with all eight teams participating nationally ranked.”
Assistant coach Karina Kedzo, who played for four years at East Tennessee State University before graduating in 2012, joined Zlatkovic at the start of the 2015–16 season.
In addition to Zlatkovic, there were three other new head coaches in Yale athletics this year: Allison Guth for women’s basketball, Erica LaGrow for women’s lacrosse and Kylie Stannard for men’s soccer.