This time one year ago, head coach Jeff Zinn was heading into the Farnsworth/Princeton Invitational with less than a month’s preparation for his team.
Zinn left Wake Forest after 15 years and took the helm at Penn State on Aug. 20, 2011. Although Zinn said it was a no-brainer decision, it was not until Sept. 1, two weeks before the first tournament, that assistant coach Chris Cagle joined Zinn and the Nittany Lions.
Senior C.J. Griffin said despite the short notice of the new coaching staff, the team was still anxious for the beginning of last fall season.
“It was pretty weird,” Griffin said. “We were definitely excited to get started, even though the coaches got there a little late…[and] to get to know the new coach, especially with the reputation that Jeff and Chris had down in Wake Forest.”
Zinn said the players made the transition easy for he and Cagle. Zinn also said the players have done everything they have been asked to and that they want to be good, which is the first hurdle in any good program.
Cagle said there is an immense difference between the start to last year and the start to this campaign.
“We probably spent most of the fall getting to know everybody’s game and how to coach them best,” Cagle said. “This year, it’s like we’ve hit the ground running, and we’re able to do higher level work with the guys right from the get go.”
Cagle said the past year was a learning year for his squad, but now, the team is more battle-tested. This year, the team has higher expectations and is ready to take its game to the next level.
Zinn said this year the team comes into the Princeton Invitational as an established staff and with much more confidence than last year.
“That one year gives us a lot more experience as a coaching staff to handle what we need to do to be successful for this fall,” Zinn said. “I think from top down, the confidence is knowing that if we stick to the system, we can have a lot more success.”
The competition for this year’s Princeton Invitational is stiff. The field features Columbia, Cornell, St. John’s and Zinn’s previous team, Wake Forest. All four teams were ranked in the final ITA poll last year, made up of 75 teams.
The Lions are only sending four members of the team to the tournament, which starts today. The players that will compete at the Lenz Tennis Center are Griffin, junior Chris Young, sophomore Ramy Labna and freshman Matt Barry.
Zinn said he is trying to split the team up a little bit and take some players different places during the fall season, but he still has confidence in their talent to do well this weekend.
Although the Lions took home three titles in last year’s Princeton Invitational, both Zinn and Cagle are not placing an emphasis on winning this time around.
“From a coaching perspective, there’s not pressure in the fact that you’ve got to win in order for this weekend to be a success,” Cagle said. “If we put into competition the things that we’ve been practicing, and we don’t win as much as we’d like to this weekend. It’ll still be a successful weekend.”
While Cagle is using the tournament to develop his player’s game in order to win when it counts more in conference play in the spring, Zinn is using the upcoming weekend as a barometer for select players on his team.
“Every tournament is very important because it can solidify playing time for the spring,” Zinn said. “So, we sort of gauge these tournaments as this is your way to play yourself into the lineup.”
Barry, who will be playing in his first tournament for Penn State, said he is entering the weekend with the mentality that he needs to prove himself.
“I think it’s really important to show the coaches and my teammates that I’m hardworking,” Barry said. “I just want to show the coaches that I have it in me.”