Every player got a phone call.
When men’s tennis coach Steve Mauro found out that the NCAA placed the program on two years probation for violations involving former coach Bill Hoehne, he personally called every player on the squad to talk about the situation.
As a result of the probation, the men’s tennis team can’t qualify for the Atlantic Ten Conference playoffs this season. The team finished third at the A-10 Conference Championship only two seasons ago.
“It kind of sucks,” senior Kristopher Celtnieks said. Celtnieks is the only member of the current roster to play for the team when Hoehne used an ineligible athlete during the 2004-2005 season.
“I was quite surprised about why we were the ones who were punished because it happened before our coach and the majority of the players on the team got here,” he added.
Along with Temple, Hoehne, who coached the Owls for seven years before he was fired on April 12, 2005, was cited for violations including fraud and erroneous student-athlete eligibility certifications.
According to the NCAA, Hoehne told the ineligible athlete to compete under someone else’s name, in addition to mumbling the ineligible player’s name during pre-game introductions or asking opponents to skip pre-game introductions altogether.
The probation has put a cloud over a program that has been revitalized under Mauro.
In his third season with the team, Mauro has compiled a 26-21 overall record, while expanding the number of players on the roster and recruiting talented athletes from in and outside of America. Seniors Philip Gegenheimer and Zack Tobias both transferred to Temple in 2005 during Mauro’s first year with the program.
With no opportunity to reach the playoffs this season, Mauro has been faced with the challenge of motivating a team that knows that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
“I thought it was going to be hard, but we have a really tough schedule this season, probably the toughest schedule that Temple has had in 10 years,” he said.
The team played top-ranked competition at the Penn Classic last weekend and will square-off against William & Mary and Virginia Commonwealth in January.
“After we got over the initial shock [of the announcement], we realized the bigger picture, and I feel that the team is as motivated as they’ve ever been,” Mauro said.
Since taking over for Hoehne in 2005, Mauro has instituted a strict strength and conditioning program that has helped the team gain confidence. Celtnieks said the intensity level during practice has grown and he’s seen more player improvement during matches since Mauro arrived.
“The program’s a lot better than it was during my freshman year,” Celtnieks said.
In 2004, Celtnieks was a freshman on the team during Hoehne’s final year. He said he and many of his teammates were unaware that Hoehne was using an ineligible player.
After Hoehne was fired, Celtnieks was forced to make a decision about his athletic future.
“I wasn’t planning on changing schools,” he said. “But I was definitely worried about the state of the program. We lost some good recruits.”
Celtnieks was one of three players to return to the team after Hoehne was fired.
The atmosphere of the program – on and off the court – changed as soon as Mauro was hired, Celtnieks said.
“He just brought a lot of knowledge to the team,” he said. “If you need to talk about something, he’s always there . . . We never really did fundraisers, community service and other types of promotions before he got here.”
The team attained a 3.2 GPA last semester and Mauro said he expects the high marks to continue on the court this season, even though the squad can’t qualify for the postseason.
In an effort to look on the positive side of the situation, Mauro said the team will further utilize its younger players once conference play starts.
“It will be a good time to see where [the freshmen] stand,” he said.
The goal is to continue to look past the current situation and focus on the bigger picture.
“We still expect to finish above .500 this season and our ultimate goal is still to win an A-10 championship,” Mauro said.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.