When the top-ranked Virginia men’s team attempts to defend its national title, assistant coach Dustin Taylor will be back in a familiar place.
The NCAA Championships are being played at the Michael D. Case Tennis Center at the University of Tulsa, where Taylor was a standout in 2001-04. It’s also the site where he ended his playing career when the Hurricane hosted the men’s championships in Taylor’s senior year.
“I think it’s special for anyone to go back to their alma mater and have an opportunity to have some success and the grand experience of the year there,” Taylor said. “(Oklahoma coach) John Roddick a couple years back reached the finals at Georgia, and you could just see that he kind of reveled in that.”
Taylor, a four-time participant in the NCAA individual championships and a 2003 All-American, transferred to TU for his final three seasons. The Case Tennis Center opened his first year on campus, and he was part of the inaugural match played there in an exhibition with John McEnroe in 2001.
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“I didn’t know the old facility, but (the Case Tennis Center) was brand new and I was part of the first team to play in it,” he said. “It was pretty special.”
Taylor also came to town in March for a doubleheader with TU and OU, which Virginia defeated in last year’s finals. Standing between the Cavaliers and a 12th consecutive quarterfinal appearance is No. 16 seed Oklahoma State, their noon Friday opponent.
“(The target) is always on Virginia,” Taylor said. “With Virginia and USC winning four out of the last six, they’re going to have targets on you all the time. It’s just (a matter of) if you’re going to embrace it and tackle it (head-) on. I think the guys have done a really good job of that.”
After four years at the USTA, including two as the national player development coach for collegiate tennis, Taylor joined the Virginia staff in 2014 and won a national championship in his first season. His first coaching gig was a summertime position at The Grand’s Tucker Tennis Academy in south Tulsa.
Vince Westbrook, who has coached the Hurricane men for 25 years, and Dean Orford, the former men’s assistant who coaches the women’s team, were significant influences on Taylor during his time in the program.
“Seeing the coaches show up day in and day out with the same energy level, with the same passion, the same mentality … the level of consistency was pretty admirable,” Taylor said. “That’s what we try to hold our guys to, and it starts with the coaching staff. That was a good lesson to learn, and I definitely carried that over into my coaching career.”
In addition to meeting his future wife, Jennie, with whom he has three children, Taylor also fell back in love with tennis while in Tulsa.
“Coming out of juniors, I took the last year-and-a-half off and I was little bit burned out,” he said. “College tennis and Tulsa tennis kind of brought that love and that passion back. I probably wouldn’t still be in the game if it weren’t for (TU). I owe a lot to Vince and the program and the community.”
The 34-year-old is a prime candidate to become a head coach, but he is content for now to work under veteran Brian Boland at one of the most successful programs in the country.
“Obviously, my heart is always with my alma mater at Tulsa, but Virginia is a pretty special place,” Taylor said. “I haven’t really been interested in any head-coaching jobs. I really love what I’m doing now and (am) learning a lot. If I ever stop learning, then maybe I’ll look to do something else.”
Kelly Hines 918-581-8452