April 10, 2015
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 4, 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 2014-15 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 JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa men’s tennis senior Matt Hagan went all in the summer before his final Hawkeye season, and it has resulted in the best year of his collegiate career.
After posting a career-best 16 victories as a junior, Hagan spent the summer in Iowa City for daily training sessions with UI head coach Ross Wilson. He spent hours on the court, in the weight room, and working on mental aspects of the game to get the most out of his final season.
“Matt putting in the time in the summer was huge,” said Wilson. “He stayed all summer and put in the time in the weight room with teammate Dominic Patrick. That is a huge part of why he was able to be successful.”
After nearly playing his way into the championship bracket at the ITA All-American Championships in the fall, Hagan parlayed his success into a run at the ITA Central Regionals. He won four straight matches to become a singles finalist — the first for the Hawkeyes since 1999.
Two weeks later, Hagan teamed with Patrick to win a Big Ten doubles title — the first top-flight doubles title for the program since 1958. He advanced to the Round of 16 in the singles competition.
But it wasn’t always a smooth ride.
“Matt is just scratching the surface of his potential. I wish he could stay here for another two years because he has so much room to grow, and he’s going to get so much better in the right environment.”
UI head coach Ross Wilson
After being a four-time Nebraska state singles and doubles champion, a four-star recruit, and the second-ranked player in the Missouri Valley section, offers aplenty came Hagan’s way. Nebraska offered, so did perennial Big Ten power Illinois, and Iowa, by way of former UI head coach Steve Houghton.
It was a difficult decision for Hagan. His father and grandfather attended Nebraska, and his father competed for the Cornhusker men’s tennis program as a freshman.
“(My dad) was all for me going to Iowa,” said Hagan. “With my grandpa and dad going to Nebraska, it was tough choosing Iowa over Nebraska, but my whole family was for it. They thought it would be cool if I did something different.”
Houghton proved to the difference in getting Hagan to Iowa City.
“I loved coach Houghton, he was a guy I admired,” said Hagan. “One of my coaches back home, Mike Henrich, played for coach Houghton at Iowa. He only had good things to say about Iowa, the program, and facilities overall.”
Hagan was thrown to the wolves as a freshman, being asked to compete at No. 1 singles in the Big Ten as an 18-year old.
“My goal coming in was to make the lineup,” said Hagan. “I knew I had a good shot, but coming in and playing No. 1 singles was crazy. I got a lot of good experience against guys that are top-10 ranked in the country, All-America guys. It was great experience, but I had a lot of ups and downs.”
He finished his first season with a 6-20 singles record, which included a 1-14 mark in the spring season. Hagan won 10 matches as a sophomore, going 5-6 at No. 1 singles.
“Matt had a difficult career, starting as a freshman and sophomore and playing at the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions,” said Wilson. “He didn’t get a chance to play at the bottom spots and build his confidence and find his game.”
When Wilson joined the UI coaching staff as an assistant in 2013-14, Hagan moved down in the lineup during his junior year to experience winning and build confidence. Hagan matched his win total from his first two seasons, going 16-15, playing primarily at No. 4.
“He was able to play and beat guys, while learning his game,” said Wilson. “He got comfortable on the court in competitive situations and built some confidence.”
Hagan began his final spring season as the 116th-ranked singles player and was a part of the 31st-ranked double tandem nationally. He climbed to as high as No. 79 following a three-set victory over No. 39 Tin Ostojic of Wichita State on Feb. 22. The win sent Hagan to his first career Big Ten Player of the Week honor.
Hagan is 8-8 overall at No. 1 singles and 9-7 in doubles this spring while helping the Hawkeyes to a 12-6 record, including a 4-3 mark in Big Ten play with four duals before the Big Ten Tournament.
More than the wins and losses, Hagan has been a steadying influence on an Iowa roster filled with four freshmen and five underclassmen.
“Matt has done great with our freshmen,” said Wilson. “He’s not a rah-rah guy, but he’s a person the other guys can go and talk with on and off the court. It has been nice to see Matt be able to draw on his experiences, talk with him about it and help them.”
“I am trying to be a guy for everyone to look up to,” said Hagan. “The four freshmen are doing well, but they’ve all had their time where they were up and down. I am a guy they can be comfortable talking to, not only tennis stuff, but academically and socially.”
After completing his degree in sports management, Hagan intends on continuing his playing career professionally. Wilson sees a player with a bright future.
“Matt is just scratching the surface of his potential,” said Wilson. “I wish he could stay here for another two years because he has so much room to grow, and he’s going to get so much better in the right environment.
“At the pro level, his game is going to translate, because he has a big serve and forehand and you have to have two big weapons to be successful. If he can go out, play, and get some ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) points and experience, I think he could be a top 500 player in the world.”