Tennis: Bradley-Rose will depart, leaving both teams without coaches
Bradley-Rose met with the team to tell her players the news late Monday afternoon, according to junior Monica Chow. She will remain in charge of the team through the NCAA Tournament, should any of Princeton’s players qualify for singles or doubles competition. The brackets will be released Wednesday evening.
“We were definitely sad to hear that Megan was leaving, but we understand where she was coming from,” Chow said in an email. “I feel really fortunate to have played three years under her. Both Megan and [assistant coach] Luana [Magnani] helped us with a lot of things, both on and off the court.”
Bradley-Rose will follow her husband Jesse to her native state of Florida, though she has not yet decided what she will do there. “My husband has been very supportive of my career, and although this is a difficult choice to leave Princeton, I think this is in the best interest of our family at this time,” she said in a University release.
In 2010, Bradley-Rose’s first season as head coach, Princeton won the Ivy League championship and reached the NCAA Tournament, where it lost its opening match 4-3 to Virginia. Despite being nationally ranked in the top 60 for the entire 2011 season, the Tigers finished third in a competitive Ancient Eight, and they placed second with a 5-2 conference record this season.
“Although we are surprised by Megan’s decision to pursue other opportunities as she transitions into the next stage of her married and professional life, we greatly appreciate her tremendous contributions to the women’s tennis program and her ability to sustain the competitive excellence at the Lenz Tennis Center,” Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 said in a University release.
Earlier in April, Bradley-Rose announced a strong group of recruits for the Class of 2016, featuring two players who were ranked in the top 35 nationally.
“I went through something similar as an incoming freshman,” said Chow, who was recruited by former head coach Kathy Sell but debuted in Bradley-Rose’s first year. “I came into Princeton with no idea what was going to happen. That year, we all stepped up when we really needed to and ended up winning Ivies ... I believe that our team and incoming freshmen are really talented and can come together as a team and step up once again next year.”
In contrast, Michibata told The Daily Princetonian on Thursday that his resignation was a “mutual” decision between him and Walters.
“I talked to Gary about this at the end of the [Ivy] season,” Michibata said. “It was a mutual understanding, and there was no push or anything like that.”
Walters said he was “absolutely comfortable” with Michibata’s description of the resignation as “mutual” but declined to comment further, citing the University’s policy on confidentiality in personnel matters. Last Monday, Walters released a statement announcing the decision, thanking Michibata and wishing him the best in the future.
Michibata said there was no bitterness and that the program deserved to move in a new direction.
“There is pressure to win, and [though] winning isn’t everything ... I’m a competitor, and I don’t like to lose,” Michibata said.
Michibata informed the team of his departure in a team meeting last Monday at the Lenz Tennis Center. Several players said they were surprised to hear the news.
“They were the first I talked to. I wanted them to hear first and directly from me,” Michibata said. “That was the toughest part of this whole process.”
“He was the most influential person outside of the classroom to all of us,” junior Matija Pecotic said. “He was so important to us in our lives as a coach, as a mentor, as a leader, and it was tough to hear.”
Despite the resignation, Michibata said he would like to continue coaching tennis in the West Windsor area, where he has lived with his wife and two children during his 12-year tenure as Princeton coach. Michibata stressed that he wanted to remain in his nearby home in order to raise his 12-year-old son but did not rule out taking a coaching job elsewhere.
“My first priority is staying in the area, which will make it tough to continue being a college coach,” he said. “I’m trying to find something as quickly as possible … I’m not burnt out or anything like that.”
Unlike Bradley-Rose, Michibata does not plan to coach in the postseason. Several players are awaiting word on whether they will qualify for the NCAA Tournament, including Pecotic in the singles bracket and the doubles pairing of juniors Matt Siow and Matt Spindler. As the expected repeat Ivy League Player of the Year, Pecotic — who did not drop a single set in conference play this year — will likely receive a spot on Wednesday, when the NCAA field is announced, while Siow and Spindler’s chances are less secure.
“I definitely don’t consider my season to be over,” Pecotic said. Pecotic said that he did not know who would be the de facto leader and coach after Tuesday, when he expects practice to resume. The future of the rest of the men’s tennis coaching staff, including assistant coach Chris Hoeland, remains unclear as well. When Sell left Princeton in 2009, Bradley brought in her own assistant. Hoeland declined to comment.
Should Pecotic be invited to the NCAA field, he would potentially travel to Athens, Ga., on his own, without a coach and without any teammates.
In his time at Princeton, Michibata presided over three separate Ivy Players of the Year in Judson Williams ’02, Peter Capkovic ’09 and Pecotic. Pecotic, who has won 15 straight Ivy League singles matches, is expected to win his second consecutive award this season and will be the odds-on favorite again next year. Still, even with the abundant talent, Michibata failed over his 12 years to capture the team Ivy League title.
“In each case, those players were surrounded by a pretty darn good team,” Michibata said. “That’s my disappointment in myself: that even with my personnel, I wasn’t able to push the right buttons.”
This year, the Tigers stormed out to a 3-0 conference record, each of which was a close 4-3 victory. Princeton could not keep up the close wins, however, and dropped its last four league matches to finish tied for fourth place in the conference. Michibata came closest to leading an Ivy championship team last season, when Princeton played Cornell in the final match of the season to determine the champion, but the Tigers lost by a 4-3 score to give the Big Red the title. Michibata finished his Princeton tenure with a 145-121 overall record, 45-39 in the Ivy League.
“I’m personally frustrated I couldn’t take this team to an Ivy League title,” Michibata said. “I feel like I have exhausted everything I could, and for whatever reason, we could never get to that final.”
“He expects a lot from himself,” senior Yohei Shoji said. “I don’t think he’s completely responsible, and obviously a lot is from the players. I don’t think it’s entirely his fault at all.”
Before becoming a coach, Michibata excelled as a professional tennis player, peaking as the No. 1-ranked doubles partner with Grant Connell in 1991. Michibata then worked as an assistant coach at the University of Southern California in the late 1990s until he was hired by Princeton in 2000. Michibata replaced the retiring coach David Benjamin, who had been the tennis coach for 26 years prior.
“It was tough news for us because we all really like Coach and really appreciate all that he’s done for us,” Shoji said. “It’s really sad to see him go.”