You’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve made it look easy. In April, the William & Mary women’s tennis team won the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship for the 25th time — and their third in a row. At the helm was head coach Tyler Thomson, but he’s more interested in sharing the credit than taking it.
“The foundation for our success resides squarely in the history of the program,” he says. “William & Mary’s current women’s tennis program continues to benefit from the success of those who came before us.”
That foundation — reaching back to his predecessors Millie West HON ’91, L.H.D. ’17 and even Martha Barksdale, Class of 1921 — has led Thomson’s team to amazing things. Four players were named to the 2016-17 CAA all-conference teams, including Player of the Year Marie-Ambroisine Faure ’17. Six players were named Intercollegiate Tennis Association Scholar-Athletes, adding to W&M’s total of 38 since 2002.
Thanks to his tremendous success with the team on and off the court, Thomson has been honored as the 2017 William & Mary Alumni Association Coach of the Year.
“I was surprised and humbled,” he says of hearing the news. “I don’t feel that I’m any more deserving of this award than my colleagues; we all strive to be our best and represent the university well. I also felt gratitude for the partnership I have with our associate head coach, Jesse Medvene-Collins, and of course for the team members.”
In his five years as head coach, Thomson has taken the Tribe to the NCAA Tournament four times and has won 17 matches against nationally ranked competitors. While the 2016-17 season came down to a narrow loss against Ole Miss in the tournament, Thomson is clear that the team’s heads should be held high.
“We were underdogs to begin with,” he says. “Then our No. 1 player fell ill and couldn’t participate. Without our top player, we came within a whisker of an upset win. Everyone responded amazingly well to the challenge of moving to a higher lineup position. I think that match set the tone for the upcoming season and redefined what this squad believes they are capable of achieving.”
Thomson, whose coaching position is partly funded through private support, began his career at William & Mary as an assistant coach from 1997 to 2001. After spending the next decade at the helm at the University of Minnesota’s program, he was happy to come back to Williamsburg when the call came.
“I love what the athletic department stands for, and I like the overall atmosphere here,” Thomson says. “Things didn’t change much during my 11-year absence, and that’s a big reason why I returned. I think William & Mary is always striving to grow and change, but there are many great things that don’t need to change.”
Some of those things, he says, are the qualities that make Tribe women’s tennis so perennially superb.
“I think our current achievements stem from the team’s commitment to our program values,” Thomson says, “which include overcoming adversity, self-control, maximum effort, self-improvement and gratitude.”
The proof is in the team’s results. Since Thomson took the head coaching job, 18 of his players have been named All-CAA in singles, with eight more in doubles.
In addition to coaching three CAA Freshmen of the Year and the Most Outstanding Performer of the CAA Championship twice, he’s mentored four CAA Players of the Year: Faure, Elizaveta Nemchinov ’16 (two-time winner) and Maria Belaya ’14, all of whom are scholarship recipients.
Thomson hopes, for all the team’s success, that fans continue to recognize Tribe women’s tennis for the powerhouse it is.
“If you like watching great tennis, it doesn’t get any better than what we offer outside of the professional tour,” he says. “And it’s free. The competitive spirit and fight of our team is impressive.”
He also adds that his women have the highest team GPA of any Tribe squad — true student athletes at the top of their game in and out of the classroom. It’s a true championship experience.
“There’s lots to be proud of if you support William & Mary.”