March 3, 2010
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Wednesday, Aug. 12, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2009-10 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Reinoud Haal can let loose and breathe easily in his final semester of collegiate tennis at the University of Iowa. Haal has what many would consider a dream senior semester, allowing him to concentrate fully on taking his tennis game to another level and leaving his mark inside the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex.
Haal, a finance major, has put in his time, not only with tennis, but with academics. He is a model student with a 4.04 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and although he says school does not come easy to him, it doesn’t appear too tough, either.
“I work hard at both (school and tennis),” Haal said. “I think school comes a little easier than tennis which is helpful , especially if you have to play a lot of tennis. It helps when school comes a little easier. It’s not like I sit there and take a test without studying, but it comes relatively easily, fortunately.”
Haal has had a successful career as a Hawkeye and looks to improve even more before he graduates in May. He is 47-47 overall in singles play during his tenure, including a breakout season last year going 17-12. He flourished in the No. 3 spot, going 9-2. In doubles he is 31-29 and was tough to beat when paired with former Hawkeye Greg Holm after going 8-6 together last season. When Haal was paired with teammate Christian Bierich, they were ranked as high as 78th nationally in No. 1 doubles and went 1-3.
Haal is a long way from home. He comes from Heemstede, Netherlands, which is a nine-hour flight from Chicago. UI head coach Steve Houghton has watched Haal blossom over the years and is excited about what is in store for him this spring.
“When I think of Reinoud, I think of two things: one, he is an exceptional student, a 4 point or above and on every Dean’s List or President’s List you can think of,” Houghton said. “The other thing I think about is just how much he has improved in his time here. He started in our lineup right away and has gotten better and better. His win-loss record has gotten better and better. He is really a terrific guy to coach in terms of attitude, work ethic, everything you can think of.”
Haal is not the only player from the Netherlands to compete for Iowa. Bart van Monsjou played tennis for the Hawkeyes and was a factor in Haal choosing the UI. If Haal wanted to continue his career in tennis, he would have to come to the United States to play.
“When I think of Reinoud, I think of two things: one, he is an exceptional student, a 4 point or above and on every Dean’s List or President’s List you can think of. The other thing I think about is just how much he has improved in his time here.”
UI head coach
“It was a combination of education and athletics,” Haal said. “The universities back home don’t have college sports. If I would have gone to school there I wouldn’t have been able to play tennis. A friend of mine, Bart, who is from the Netherlands, was playing for Iowa. He recently graduated and he was kind of my in at Iowa.”
Houghton could not be happier with his products from the Netherlands.
“We have been rolling the dice with the Netherlands and it has worked out great,” Houghton said. “Reinoud has been terrific. It’s a little bit word of mouth (for recruiting there). Bart van Monsjou was from the Netherlands before Reinoud and I think they connected, and he told him about his good experiences here at Iowa. On top of that, we have just gone ahead the last couple of years and flown assistant coaches over there to get to know these kids a little bit and watch them play.”
Haal, who had not started to play competitively until the age of 12,hit the ground running as a freshman. Competition is much fiercer and doubles is not played in the Netherlands. The focus there is on a national rankings system in singles tournaments.
“I prefer singles. I’m used to being better at singles than doubles which is probably still the case,” Haal said. “I really love playing doubles because I feel like it is more of a team competing against another team. But, I have been better at singles and know a little bit more of what I am doing, so it comes a little more naturally.”
“I think he is probably equal now (at doubles and singles),” Houghton said. “I would have seen him being better in singles to start off, but his improvement in net play has made him an effective doubles player too. Last year he played No. 2 doubles with Greg Holm who has since graduated. Those guys did a good job and he is right back in there at No. 2 doubles again this year.”
Competition is also different in the United States compared to his home. Winning is equally important, but instead of a friendly handshake after a match, as Americans do, people from the Netherlands get to know their opponent more personally.
“The people here are a little more competitive because you are representing a school and playing for a school,” Haal said. “I have never done something like that. I played club tennis before. So it is more competitive and there is more at stake. One difference though is usually back home after a match you would have a drink with your opponent afterwards, which is something that doesn’t happen over here. That is something I miss, but there is more to gain here, too.”
It can be daunting to come to a different country to attend college, but Haal is happy with his decision to choose Iowa.
“The people are really nice and people are always willing to help,” Haal said. “The best part is my team; we have a good group of guys. We practice hard, but we also have a good bond outside of the tennis courts. It’s a combination of what you can do on the court and off the court.”
A progression during senior year is something that Houghton sometimes worries about in the spring with all of the distractions of graduating and searching for a career. Houghton doesn’t have to worry about Haal, who only has to take six credit hours this semester and has already locked up a job. He will be headed to London to work for an investment bank after he graduates. Haal interned at an investment bank in New York last summer before realizing he would like to be a little closer to home when he graduates.
“The people are really nice and people are always willing to help. The best part is my team; we have a good group of guys. We practice hard, but we also have a good bond outside of the tennis courts. It’s a combination of what you can do on the court and off the court.”
UI senior Reinoud Haal
“Some coaches are concerned about guys once they become seniors,” Houghton said. “Are they still going to be engaged in everything or are they going to be looking for jobs and all of that kind of stuff? I think he is very engaged in the whole tennis scene and very determined to finish up real strong his senior year. I am not worried at all about him.”
Haal has been one of many Hawkeyes under the tutelage of Houghton and his 29 years of coaching at Iowa.
“He has been around for a long time — I think it’s good because he has seen everything before, so he doesn’t freak out easily,” Haal said. “He knows that people lose and people win. He has a lot of experience now and knows what everyone can do. He is calm on the court and off. If you ever have questions, not necessarily tennis related he will help you with that. So I think having him and a pretty new coach, our assistant coach Steve Nash, is a good combination.”
Haal is from one of the first recruiting classes to compete in the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex all four years of his career. He enjoys the new facility and it will serve as a great recruiting tool for years to come. In 2009, the complex received two awards — the Iowa Tennis Association Facility of the Year Award and the UTSA Missouri Valley Facility of the Year Award. The Missouri Valley encompasses Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Iowa.
“(The facility) has made all of the difference,” Houghton said. “This is my 29th year, the first 25 years we had the recreation building for our indoor facilities. It was really not a good tennis facility. It gave us a good home-court advantage, but not really regulation courts in terms of surface. I think the new facilities sell for terms of recruiting and in Reinoud’s case, we could tell him that he would be playing in a new facility the whole time you’re here. Not only in a recruiting standpoint, but also just training every day these normal courts really make a difference compared to the old days in the recreation building.
“I think we rank pretty high in the Big Ten if you compare facilities,” Haal said. “Ours is new and is about five years old. The courts are great and the facilities lead right to the locker room and training rooms. I think the one thing we are missing is banners which I think we can work on.”
With all the right keys in place, the Hawkeyes are looking to break into the NCAA tournament this season, a milestone they narrowly missed last season.
“The guys that played last year have really made a good jump this year through the fall,” Houghton said. “I really expect big things from our team. We were literally within a point or two within a match of making NCAA’s last year. We think we can make up that differential this year.”
You can be assured that Haal will do everything in his will power to help the Hawkeyes get to the postseason. He has worked on getting his academic work out of the way, and with no need to send out resumes, Haal will be eating and breathing tennis every day. The Hawkeyes are ready to unleash him this spring.