AUBURN — There was a point this offseason that Kevin Cullen wasn’t even sure he’d coach this season.

Between other commitments and having to juggle his time, it was tempting to step away from coaching tennis.

“Lee (Hixon, St. Dom’s AD) asked me if I’d consider doing it another year,” Cullen said. “At the same time, the girls’ coach resigned. I said, ‘You know what? Let me run them both.’”

Instead of not coaching tennis at all, Cullen is doing double duty, coaching both varsity tennis programs at St. Doms.

“It’s really rejuvenated me,” said Cullen, who also coaches the Saints’ golf team in the fall. “It’s been way more fun than it has been the last couple of years.”

Coaching both programs can be a challenge. You have twice the number of athletes, double the personalities, double the workload and matches at different venues. After working strictly with the boys’ team in recent years, Cullen likes the change.

“I really prefer it,” he said. “It allows me to do things I haven’t been able to do before.”

Having both girls and boys in practice provides him different kinds of players. He likes being able to help the boys learn from the girls and vice versa. It’s a dynamic coaches don’t have in other sports.  The boys play a more powerful and aggressive game while the girls tend to be more patient and strategic.

“So I try to make the guys learn some of the gamesmanship from the girls and the girls learn some of the power from the guys,” Cullen said.

Cullen had opportunity to coach both teams last spring. He filled in for former girls’ coach Pam Kay for one practice. It proved a good precursor.

“I said, ‘I’m going to put you through one of my guy’s practices,’” Cullen said. “Some of the girls really liked it. I wasn’t treating anyone like boys or girls; I was treating them like athletes.”

Cullen has help with assistant coach Andrew Girouard. He’s been helping with the boys’ team for three years. He’ll be able to coach one team when the two programs are playing the same day, but at different venues.

“He’s been a great assistant for me for many years,” Cullen said. “He really understands what I’m trying to do. We kind of teach from the same base. Having a great partner like him is a huge help.”

The two coaches are nurturing a junior high program with 17 players. The varsity girls have 14 players and there are 10 on the boys’ team.

The girls return No. 1 player Kaitlyn Thompson. Callie Greco also returns to singles but moves up to the second spot. Alaina Dyer, a veteran doubles player, will play third singles. Liza Gaylord, Jen McClain and Zoe Caron are also returning players. The girls’ team lost to Lisbon in the Western C quarterfinals last spring.

“We should be very competitive in the MVC and if our doubles improve like I think they can, we have a good chance to have some success,” Cullen said. “Our main goal is to get better every day through collaboration and hard work.”

On the boys’ side, seniors Zack DeBlois, Austin Christopher and Jon Hudson are all returning from last year’s MVC title team. The Saints lost to NYA in the quarterfinals. Exchange student Novak Liu could turn some heads this year as well. Jeffrey Ahlquist, Mike Blaich and Chris Laverdiere all played exhibition matches last year and move up to larger roles this year.

Having the two teams work together will enhance the opportunity for players to learn from each other. One example Cullen states is Thompson.

“Kaitlyn is phenomenal,” he said. “She’s one of the best players in the entire state. Her brother won two state championships.”

Cullen likes the patience and strategic kind of game that Christopher brings to the boys team. He thinks Thompson will become an ever greater player as she learns a little of Christopher’s methodical style.

It makes it more exciting and challenging as a coach. When the boys’ have been so strong in recent years, the expectations were high. It was fun to be successful but a lot of times coaches enjoy the journey more.

“The fun is in teaching,” Cullen said. “I love the instruction. When I work out with the junior high kids now going from just hitting the ball and then seeing them hit forehands, backhands and volleys, to see them getting technically good, that’s a blast to see. I really appreciated that.”

He likes the mixture of talent and personalities and the unity of two teams working together as one.

“If one wins, we all win,” Cullen said. “We’re a family. We’re a small school. Having the ability to be a faith-filled family, and we have faith in each other that we’re going to give our best every day. I think if the girls make it further in the playoffs than the boys, they’ll play for the boys. If it’s the same thing for the boys, they’ll play for the girls. I’m pretty confident at the end of the season, everybody will be watching each other play.”

St. Dom’s already had one scrimmage with Kents Hill and they play Hebron on Monday in another preseason match. Then they wait until after April vacation to start the regular season.

“Going like this, I haven’t had this much fun coaching in a really long time,” Cullen said. “This is the most fun I’ve really had.”

So what about those thoughts about stepping away from coaching tennis? Well, maybe not.

“All things being the same as they are now, I definitely would want to do this again next year,” he said. “It’s a great family environment, and I couldn’t be happier.”

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