By Preston Byers
Those that see Ulises Hernandez walking around the Youngstown State University campus probably just think he’s a student heading to class. He’s unassuming, with short black hair, oval glasses and no facial hair. Maybe he’s a psychology major or he’s pursuing a business degree.
He’s actually the head coach of one of YSU’s most promising athletic programs.
As the men’s tennis coach, Hernandez, 25, commands seven players. While some may view his youth as a lack of experience, Hernandez, who graduated from Loras College in 2016, sees it as an advantage in relating to his players.
“I think it [helps by] just building connections with the guys and understanding their perspective,” Hernandez said. “As students, I understand what struggles they are going through.”
His connection with the players, in addition to the strong play of the team, has yielded impressive results.
Last year, in Hernandez’s first season as head coach, YSU won 12 matches, five of which came within the Horizon League. This helped the team secure second place in the conference for the first time in school history.
Things are looking good again this season. YSU is 3-1 through the first four matches of the spring season. At this point in the season a year ago, the Penguins picked up their first loss to Butler University, which was followed by losses in four of the next five matches.
YSU’s undefeated record was again ruined by Butler this season with a 4-3 loss on Feb. 2. But Hernandez doesn’t expect the same problems he and his team faced in 2019.
“The system we have in place, I really think it’s the difference right now,” Hernandez said. “The guys were used to a certain system, but now that they see this system’s functioning the way it should be, I feel like the system will continue to progress and progress.”
The goal for Hernandez and the Penguins is obviously to win. But he knows more losses lie ahead.
Hernandez said the losses will help the team “learn a few things” about itself. Last year, when the Penguins dropped four matches in February, they discovered they were missing energy. That lesson helped propel them to a solid March and an even better April, during which they won four consecutive conference matches.
Now that the team has felt defeat, there should be a few more lessons for the Penguins, and they’ll have to learn most of them on the road.
YSU’s next seven matches are away from Youngstown, with the next home match slated for March 21 against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in YSU’s Horizon opener.
By then, Hernandez and his players hope they will be able to practice and play in the on-campus indoor tennis facility, which is under construction despite originally being projected to be finished by the start of 2020.
The center is on the campus’s west side along West Scott Street. It will house six tennis courts.
Construction of the facility will be complete March 11, according to Rich White, YSU director of planning and construction.
The Penguins will begin their road trip with matches against Morgan State University and James Madison University on Feb. 8 and 9, respectively.