College Knowledge: Babson College
WELLESLEY, MA - Michael Kopelman is in his fourth season as the head coach of the Babson College Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams. In just his first three years in Wellesley, he led the men’s program to its first ever conference championships, NCAA Regional Final and national ranking and the women’s team to their first conference title since 2003. In doing so, each of his recruiting classes have been nationally ranked and his teams have earned more than 40 academic accolades.
Kopelman, the former ITA Northeast Region Assistant Coach of the Year at Brandeis, has compiled a combined record of 48-18 through his first three years and hopes to continue his success in what’s shaping up to be an uninterrupted tennis season.
He talked about his early success at Babson, what he’s looking for in a recruit, his outlook on the upcoming season and more in the latest edition of College Knowledge.
What type of athlete and person are you looking to recruit at Babson?
We are looking for players that are self-motivated and want to continue to improve. College starts a brand new four-year cycle, and it’s extremely important our players want to continue working hard. Our current players have a good amount of input into who we take with each year’s recruiting cycle. We feel like this helps to ensure players will be a good fit for our program and team dynamic.
As a coach, what are your main focuses with each individual student-athlete once they arrive on campus?
When a player first arrives, I am mostly focused on their transition into college life. For some of our student-athletes, it’s a pretty seamless transition. For others, it can certainly be a difficult adjustment. It’s important for anyone transitioning into college to know that there are a lot of challenges with the change, and it’s ok to ask for help. Every school has a lot of resources, including Babson, but oftentimes first years are unaware of these resources (counseling and psychological services, health and wellness services, talking to coaches, talking to captains, and pretty much anything else you can think of).
You've earned a few Babson firsts in just your first few seasons in Wellesley. How proud are you of what you and your teams have accomplished in such a short time?
I am extremely proud of our players. They have really bought into what we are trying to do here and it has really allowed us to succeed at a high level. Our future is looking bright, but I think everyone understands we still have a lot of work to do for us to be one of the best teams in the country. One of the main things we say and focus on is “closing the gap” between us and the top teams. Every year we have continued to improve and have earned a lot of program firsts. At the end of the day though, we are not satisfied with what we have accomplished and know there is still a lot of work left.
What do you primarily attribute that success to?
Our players are hungry and want to continue to improve. A lot of our players came to Babson to be the foundation of a great program. But at the time, they kind of had to trust our vision and what we had the potential for, because our results were not really there. I am forever grateful that they believed in me and Babson. They have really worked hard for us to get to where we are in such a short time.
It has been a tremendous amount of work as well, especially since I coach both teams. I have been very fortunate to have a strong support system at home with my wife Sarah, and now our one and half year-old daughter, Willa!
- Babson College Women's Team
- Babson College Men's Team
- Babson College Women's Team
I am on pretty much all hours of the day between working with the teams, to traveling for matches and recruiting, to taking calls at all hours of the day, from people all over the world. Sarah is definitely sick of hearing my initial recruiting call by now!
What makes your student-athletes athletes at Babson so special?
Babson is one of the best academic institutions in the country. The unique curriculum we can provide for anyone interested in business is special. Balancing the strong academics and competing at a high level in tennis is something that is not easy. It always amazes me how our players are able to navigate this and succeed at a high level on and off the court. I really appreciate their commitment and the sacrifices they make for our team to be successful.
You were named 2018 Northeast Region Assistant Coach of the Year at Brandeis - How much confidence did that give you in taking a head coaching job and being able to lead a program on your own?
I learned a ton in my time at Brandeis. I was extremely fortunate to be given a lot of responsibility, so when it was time to take over my own program at Babson, I had pretty much experienced everything. Ben Lamanna who was the head coach at Brandeis at the time (he is now the women’s head coach at Bowdoin) really trusted me to act as a co-head coach. There were a lot of times I was running a practice on my own or coaching a team on my own (since we worked with both the men’s and the women’s teams). So I felt well prepared when it came time to officially become a head coach.
You must be nearing the point where all players are your own recruits and not ones you inherited. How exciting is it for you transitioning to a roster full of student-athletes you've individually sought out for this program?
On the women’s side, we have no seniors, so everyone on the team is someone I have recruited. On the men’s side, we have one senior who I inherited, so at this point almost everyone on the teams I have recruited. It’s always nice to have a team full of players you have recruited. But I feel fortunate to have inherited talented rosters and great individuals when I first started. It’s not easy to have a coaching change during your college career, but most of the players I inherited were receptive to making the necessary changes for us to improve. We owe a lot of our success to their initial willingness.
You have players from New England and from across the globe. Talk about the diversity of recruits within your program.
We have players from 30 minutes up the road, and all the way from England, Norway, France, India and more. That’s what really makes Babson a special place. We have individuals from all over the world that come to Babson to be the part of a special team. It’s always nice having someone that is local though! Usually their family can be a bit more involved with the program because they are close by. At the end of the day, we are just looking for whoever we feel like will be the best player(s) for our program, no matter where they are from.
What advice would you give to a New England junior starting the recruiting process who’s interested in Babson?
The best advice I could give anyone is to get out there and play tournaments. Competing at a high level is the best way to improve and learn what you need to work on. Tournaments can also help to give you a more accurate sense of your level. There are a lot of great tools such as UTR that can give you a rough sense of your level compared to the level of a school you are interested in. Being realistic with yourself and what you hope to accomplish is really important as well. Think about the questions: Do you want to go to the best school you can and potentially never start? Do you want to go to a school where you know you can start and play right away? Or maybe you love tennis but you have a lot of other passions you want to pursue in college. If so, maybe USTA Tennis On Campus is your best bet. There is no right answer, so it’s important to know what you want.
How has the pandemic affected the recruiting process for you?
The past few years have certainly been a challenge for everyone. One of the great things about Babson is how diverse we are. We have students and student athletes from all over the world. Due to travel restrictions, it made it tough for a lot of our international players to make it back to campus and ultimately affected some players not coming to Babson for a year, or even at all.
Babson is a pretty special place, so with recruits not able to see the campus in person, iit was definitely harder in terms of recruiting. Although it’s been frustrating for us, everyone has been dealing with similar issues, so we have continued to make the most of it.
How excited are you to be back playing this season with hopefully no restrictions, and do you have expectations for the season?
As of now, we are scheduled to play a full schedule! We are pumped to get a lot of matches and travel. The last few years have not been ideal, so it will be nice to get back to a more normalized schedule. The year never really goes to plan. Things are always evolving and changing, which makes it exciting. Players learn and mature at different rates, so you never really know what you’ve got until the matches start. A more tangible goal would be for both of our teams to be inside the top 25 nationally. I really feel like this is possible for our teams this year, as we continue to push the programs forward.
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