Friday, February 27, 2009

Interview with Ben Belletto, Head Coach of Pomona-Pitzer

I had a chance to talk with Coach Belletto about his team's upcoming match with Cal Lutheran as well as his program in general. He gave me some very good and comprehensive answers...

D3Tennis: How have you done against Cal Lutheran the past few years and what do you expect from them this year? Is this a big match for your team?

BB: We’ve gone back and forth with Cal Lu the past few years, though they got us last year. They’re a good program and I don’t think they always get the credit they deserve. Coach Gennette does a great job year in and year out. My team is very young. Typically we’ll have four freshmen in the starting lineup, so every match is a huge learning experience. I expect them to fight for every ball, every point. This is a big match for us, but every match is big. I don’t want to be one of those teams that plays up or down to their opponent. Our preparation and focus is the same regardless of opponent. I am very much looking forward to this weekend’s match.

D3Tennis: You split singles with Redlands in a 6-3 loss a few weeks ago. How did you feel about your team's effort and performance in that match?

BB: Against Redlands, we battled hard in singles. We were tight and nervous in doubles. It was our first match of the season, and right now we’re not as sharp as we need to be in dubs. At the same time, Redlands is a great team and they always play great doubles. In singles, even those matches we lost were competitive. We had a frosh in his first dual match of his career take the former Redlands #1 7-5 in the first; it’s a piece to build off of for sure. We will be a better team in all facets later this spring, but for what it was, we were competitive in that match.

D3Tennis: Why do you choose to play such a tough schedule? How do you feel this benefits your players?

BB: Well, first, it’s hard to say no. You have all of the best teams in the division and we have great facilities. We’ve been playing so many of these teams for so long that it becomes almost automatic. But the real reason is that we get better by playing the best. We become the best be competing with the best. I am lucky to be at a school that doesn’t measure my job security by wins and losses alone. I am driven by the processes of development and improvement. Looking at the past season, we had graduated 5 of our top 6 and were supposed to be in rebuilding mode. Cameron Taylor had played anywhere from 4-7 in our lineup in 2007. He improved because he faced great competition every day. From an admissions standpoint, Pomona is one of the toughest schools in the nation to get into. As a result, many of our guys have had less than extensive junior records. We are focused on development, and by playing such a tough schedule, we develop faster. At the end of the season, all of our guys know what it takes to be a championship team. Every year we are making this the best year in our program’s history. Every day, we have the opportunity to compete against the best.

D3Tennis: Obviously an NCAA bid will be tough to get this year with CMS in your conference. What are your team goals for the season?

BB: An NCAA bid will always be tough. That’s the way it goes, at least for now. Our team goals are always the same: Compete for a National Championship. We are always building and developing. We are always strengthening our foundation and developing our culture; always learning. I don’t get caught up in rankings and such, and I know how all of this works. In ‘07, we beat two of the five teams in the West regional, so there is much out of our control. We just go out every day and play. We play because we love tennis and love to compete. The NCAA part of it will take care of itself. Having CMS, Redlands, Cal Lu in our conference makes me a better, more dedicated coach. I wake up every morning burning to get out on the courts. We only focus on the matches in front of us, but we also know what it takes to get to Nationals. Can we beat CMS? I know how talented they are, but I’m a very competitive person and always believe I can win. I think that we CAN beat anyone on any given day. Whether we make that happen, I cannot say. We will do everything within our power to make that a reality. We have a very young team, and as the season progresses, so will they. Let’s take it one day at a time.

D3Tennis: What do you think it will take to get your team back to the top 20 in the country?

BB: D-III has become so deep and there are so many great programs out there, many of which we’ll never get the opportunity to compete against. Like I said before, we will focus on what we can control and let the rest take care of itself. We need to focus on getting better every day, and in the end, if there’s a little number next to our name, great. If not, we’ll move on. I work very hard to put us in a position to compete with the best in the country, but who doesn’t? Our guys work their tails off both in the classroom and on the courts. In the end, rankings mean very little in terms of the overall experience. I’ve had just as much of an incredible time coaching when we were unranked as when we were ranked. I love having the opportunity to win, to be the best. Right now, with the team that we have, and the group of guys we have, we have that opportunity. Our schedule is littered with opportunities.

Thanks a lot to Coach Belletto for taking the time to do this and check back later today for a preview of the Pomona-Pitzer at Cal Lutheran match tomorrow.