Big changes heading to USC Aiken’s men’s and women’s tennis teams.
Starting this fall, the school will switch to club sports. The move impacts more than a dozen student athletes, many of whom are international students on scholarship.
It’s a change sparked by change.
The head coach, Steven Dahm, announced his departure earlier in the season and now the program is coming to an end. It’s a decision the university’s athletic director calls a difficult one.
“This was a very difficult decision for the university, and a number of factors were given serious consideration beforehand, said Jim Herlihy, Director of Athletics.
NewsChannel 6 went to the men’s team’s practice Wednesday and caught up with Coach Dahm and his players.
“There’s 15 student athletes with 15 different stories,” Coach Dahm told us.
USC Aiken students will hit 15, 30 and 40 point games again, but it won’t be the same.
“Most of us played tournaments, like international tournaments before coming here,” Sophomore Vicente Andrades said. “We like the feeling of competing. If we go to playing club sports, it’s nothing.”
A press release issued by the school states the decision to switch from men’s and women’s teams to club sports comes after an analysis of the demand for the sport, scholarship needs and operational costs.
But for many of the men’s players, who came to Aiken on scholarship from countries such as Chile, Spain and Portugal, they see it differently.
Andrades, who is playing his second season, said, “I saw it coming, but I feel that the deputy director lied to us in our faces when he came here at the beginning of the season. The reason that he gave is understandable. He said he didn’t have any time to find a new coach. Our coach let him know a year ago that he was leaving.”
“My wife is a teacher and she has an opportunity to teach up in Vermont and put our kids in some amazing schools,” said Dahm who has secured another tennis position in that state.
He added that many of the players were recruited, something he has been doing since 2001.
USC Aiken will honor all athletic scholarships if those students choose to stay, but many of the men’s team players are already making plans to attend school elsewhere.
Andrades, who is still deciding where he will attend, said, “We are top 10 in the nation. Our best rank this year was number 6 in the nation and now we’re number 8. It’s hard to know you’re a number 10 team and they take out the program for the next year. It’s unbelievable.”
The men’s and women’s teams will play in the Peach Belt Conference Friday so they are gearing up for that. The program ends once this season wraps up.
Photojournalist: Gary Hipps