Last July, the Castleton University women’s tennis team hired a new head coach, Kirsten Kruk, a former multi-sport athlete from Castleton. The former NAC Conference First Team All-Star came together Thursday to share his sporting experiences.
Q. So you were the star of the women’s tennis team here, and now you’re back here coaching this tennis team. How awesome does that sound to you?
A. That’s so cool. Being a veteran of the sport and being able to give back and improve the program has been awesome, I mean when Deanna asked me to take over the job it was a no brainer for me. I have always loved tennis and loved the program at Castleton. It’s always been such a safe space for me, so I’m very happy to go back and give back to the school I love so much.
Q. I noticed a lot of coaches and teachers had been to Castleton before. What is your reason for coming back to Castleton?
A. I graduated in 2019, so I’m not that far from graduation, and I graduated here in health and physical education, so it’s a teacher tract. I’m from New York and to teach there, you have to have a master’s degree in education to be able to teach. For me, I didn’t want to go back to school a few years later, I just wanted to do it right away, that’s how I learn best. Castleton has a great Masters in Education program, so I looked into that and became the graduate assistant for the downhill ski team for the past two years. So I graduated in 2019 and then in the fall of 2020 I started as the Ski Team AG so for two years I’ve been here getting my masters and I’m still in figuring out how to become a head coach thanks to what I learned from Chris Eder, the alpine ski coach. He was a great mentor to me and I got to see the ins and outs of this coaching role. Now I got my masters degree, and all the skiing work was a great experience, so it was a really easy transition into head coaching, and now I’m in this in-between period where I don’t having a full-time teaching job, and that was just the next natural step and it worked perfectly.
Q. When you were still going to Castleton, did you think you would train there? Or was it a spontaneous opportunity that presented itself.
A. I really didn’t think I would ever be the head coach here. I didn’t even really imagine myself working for the school I attended there. I was on all these teams, I was on the lacrosse team, the downhill ski team, and the tennis team, so I was really executing my moves. I’m not one to think too far ahead in life. I like having a plan, but I also know that life happens, things happen. I don’t stick to a five-year plan or anything, so it wasn’t really on my radar, but I had such a great tennis coach here that I learned so much from, and I always thought he was so knowledgeable and I was learning all of this from him and I was like “man, I could never give someone that much knowledge”, but as I see myself in the role, and I see everything I’m able to give to the new athletes that I’m able to coach, I see I learned so much from him that he really set me up for it by just being a great coach and mentor. I never thought I would ever take his place, but I hope to make him proud.
Q. So you played tennis, lacrosse and you skied. What sport did you prefer?
A. I should say downhill skiing. I know, sorry for my tennis people, but I was recruited here to be an alpine ski racer. Even in elementary school, middle school, high school and university, skiing was always my thing. I was strictly an alpine skier, and then kind of started these new sports on the side to help keep fit. Tennis is a great sport to play in the off-season, and especially for skiers because of that back and forth motion, it’s actually very similar to ski racing, and I even tell skiers to play tennis. But skiing has always been my priority and if it came down to that and I had to make a choice in one of my sports, I would have to choose skiing. Fortunately, this school is amazing, and I have never been put in this situation. I was always encouraged to do whatever I wanted, and all of my coaches here were very supportive of that. However, the team aspect of tennis was one of the best teams I have ever been on. We always had a lot of fun, but we were always competitive, and it was nice to have such a great group of girls who all came from so many different fields, and I made so many friendships that I don’t think that I never would’ thought of doing, but I did them on the tennis team.
Q. What is your best tennis memory?
A. In my senior year, me and my doubles partner, Megan Nadler, were playing against Rhode Island College. We’ve always been great communicators, and when we were together we were probably stronger than we were in our individual signal game. It was our first year as an LEC team, and Rhode Island College is one of the best schools in the LEC, which is already very difficult. We were playing against established programs and had the best recruits from places like Russia. We fought hard the whole game, going back and forth, and we were like ‘oh my god, we can do this, we can win’, and we ended up beating them, which was amazing. We were the only win of the day and we struggled all season, but that win was one of the best things we’ve ever done. We’re still talking about it too, we’re like “hey, remember when we did that?” So that was probably one of my favorite tennis moments.
Q. What has been the best part of coaching so far?
A. The best part is definitely hanging out with such a great group of girls. I love everyone on the team, they all bring something to the table that makes it such a unique environment, and being able to work with each of them as individuals and as players on my team has been so awesome. A lot of girls decided on their own to join the team, none of them were really recruited, and watching their growth, even in such a short time, I could see a lot of growth through the exercises we chose to do. When you’re a coach and you see that you were able to say something to impact their ability and their game, that’s one of the best things a coach can experience.
Q. What was the hardest part of training?
A. One of the hardest parts is that the LEC game is really competitive for tennis. A lot of the teams we play with are very established, they have full time coaches who have been there for a while, they recruit hard and they have a lot of good tennis players. We have a lot of tough competition, so being in the LEC, and trying to build our name and build our program and compete against those teams. We had to change our mentality and we know we can win, we have to win and we have the skills to win. But it’s been really hard, and I know it’s hard for the girls, but they fight hard every day and I respect them for that every day.