by Trent Merfeld
Behind Mott Gym, upbeat classic rock blasts from the speakers above as the tennis coaches and players yell encouragements back and forth.
At the edge of the Cal Poly tennis courts you can probably hear Cal Poly tennis head coach Nick Carless playfully yelling ‘Rip It’ at his players, receiving some smiles in return.
As a former Cal Poly student, Carless has the youth and homegrown experience to relate to his players. The Cal Poly alum has already coached the Mustangs to a Big West Conference Championship in just his first season at the helm.
Number one Mustang tennis player Andre Dome thinks Carless’ youth and experience as a former Cal Poly student made a huge difference.
Dome said, “He [can] relate to us. I was a big supporter for the athletic department hiring him just because he knows the area and he’s played here. He knows how difficult it is with school and that was the biggest thing for me. He knows the sacrifice we have to put in on the academic side, not only the athletic side, and he’s very flexible with that.”
For my entire interview with Andre Dome, listen in to my SoundCloud clip. Dome discusses Carless’ impact and the upcoming expectations for the NCAA Tournament.
There’s an excitement that surrounds the tennis courts when the team practices. Every second is filled with energy.
The encouragements exchanged between the coaching staff and their players synchronize perfectly with the atmosphere of the music and the smacks of the tennis rackets.
“Let’s go Mustangs!”
“Let’s go boys! Here we go!”
The Mustangs essentially had the same talent as last year, where they fell short in the conference semifinals to Pacific. The one difference this year being the hiring of Carless.
Senior Blake Wardman said Carless came in and changed the culture of the team, and instill instilled a new sense of pride in them.
“We all hold each other accountable now. We just come out and our everyday is to protect the team and do everything we can to get each other better,” Wardman said. “[And that’s been] the difference is taking a team with the same talent level that we had last year but winning the conference title this year. More combined effort, everyone as a whole coming together and working together as a team.”
Carless, a former assistant coach for Pepperdine’s men’s tennis team, has made a habit of early success, where Pepperdine won the national championship in 2006.
Now in charge of his own program, Carless is able to instill his philosophy. He makes sure his guys embrace a team first attitude.
“[My philosophy] is protecting the team,” Carless said. Doing everything you can as a player and coach to make sure you have the team’s best interest in mind. Whether that’s handling yourself on and off court with respect so that your representing the program in right way or whether that’s in the classroom so that you’re eligible to compete so we can put the best team out there.”
Carless said the most important thing is making sure that his players come to practice every day and don’t have a selfish agenda.
“Your primary focus is your teammates and getting them better. I feel like If you have nine or ten guys that buy into that philosophy then you don’t have one coach, you have nine or ten different coaches out there and everybody strives to get the best out of each other.”
Carless says it common in tennis to get frustrated and focus in on your own misfortunes.
“I think it happens daily. When you’re not playing as well you like its easy to get frustrated and consumed with your own frustrations,” Carless said. That translates into negative energy and body language at practice, and before you know it, if you’re at a team practice everybody is noticing you and the vibe you’re giving off. I think the hardest thing as someone whose grown up in an individual sport your whole life is [realizing] the effect that you have out there on a court on how that can affect a practice or match.”
Carless’ agenda has paid off as the Mustangs are currently undefeated in conference play, and 15-7-13 overall heading into the NCAA Tournament. At a young age, Carless said he appreciates the opportunity he has been given.
“Don Oberhelman, the athletic director here, just putting his trust in a young coach and giving me the opoprtunity to lead a group of guys was extremely humbling for me, and the fact that as a young coach at 29 years old and he has trust in me to lead the team the right way. I feel very humbled and proud to be a mustang in that sense.”
Former teammate of Carless at Cal Poly and current men’s tennis head coach at the University of San Diego, Brett Masi said he knew from their playing days that Carless had what it took to coach.
“Nick had the intangibles of a coach when I first met him as a freshman. He had a great enthusiasm for sports so that always goes a long way,” Masi said. “His best attribute is his loyalty and respect for others. I’ve known Nick for 12 years now and he always has your back and knows how important relationships are, and how to build them and keep them.”
At 29 years old, Carless is not far removed from the competition, which has helped him bridge the gap in the coach-player relationship. Carless said, “Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” He said he emphasizes this mindset every time he is around his players.
“I think it’s important that they understand that you’re demainding and you want things done a certain way but you do care about them more as people than athletes,” Carless said. “You want them to become better people and students before you want them to become a better athlete, and I try to remember myself of that daily when I coach them.”
The Mustangs face off against Texas Tech this weekend in Berkley, California for the NCAA Tournament.
Look for Carless and the Cal Poly tennis program to make some noise in the upcoming years.
Get to Know Nick Carless
If You Weren’t a Coach You Would Probably be a: Physical therapist because that’s what I was doing before coaching.
Favorite Matchup to See in Professional Tennis: Nadal-Federer.
Favorite Athlete: Magic Johnson.
Favorite Quote: ‘Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’
Favorite Food: Sushi.
Pick One Drink: Diet Mountain Dew.
Pick One Band: Tom Petty.
Favorite Thing About Cal Poly: The location.
Favorite Memory Here as a Student: WOW Week.
Favorite Memory Here as a Student-Athlete: Road Trip experiences with the team.