For most student-athletes, graduation day marks the end of their collegiate athletic careers. Leaving behind a family of teammates and emotional history, some Titans will take only their favorite memories with them as they venture on toward their professional careers.
Instead, Titan alumna Alexis Valenzuela exchanged her tennis racquet and uniform for a coaching clipboard and a seat at the coach’s table when she chose to volunteer as a coach for the Cal State Fullerton tennis team’s 2017-18 season.
“Being around the whole tennis game, I wasn’t ready to leave it yet so I was like ‘Maybe I’ll give this whole coaching thing a try and see if this is something that I like,'” Valenzuela said.
Since joining the program as a player in 2014, Valenzuela made history when she was the first Titan in tennis history to be voted into the Big West Singles First Team since the creation of the award in 1989.
Her accolades didn’t end there.
Valenzuela was also recognized three consecutive times for Big West Conference Singles First Team and was the key leader to the tennis team’s 2016 road to the Big West semifinal.
After Valenzuela started the Titans’ momentum toward a title before falling to Hawaii during semifinal play, it was important to Head Coach Dianne Matias to have someone on staff that could understand the players and their needs and coach them with confidence.
“Valenzuela’s familiarity with the program is what makes the player-to-coach transition special,” Matias said. “Working and playing competitively for the women’s team has exposed her to the program’s goals and her addition to staff only allows her to continue to fulfill those goals.”
Matias hopes Valenzuela’s experience allows her to communicate with the younger players on the team in a different way than other coaches who are more further removed from their playing days.
“I think she does great,” Matias said. “She’s very effective. She keeps it simple and keeps the girls relaxed on the court and she does a good job of adapting her coaching style to whatever player she’s working with that day, and she just has really good instincts and I guess it’s just natural to her.”
One of the young players Valenzuela will coach is her younger sister, Taylor Valenzuela, a first year to the tennis program.
Taylor said that she has always looked up to her sister, who served as an inspiration for her on the court.
“Watching her accomplish great things, I was like ‘Wow, that’s a path I would want to follow.’ She basically paved the way for me,” Taylor said. “She can do it, so I can do it too.”
Her sister only adds to the impact that Alexis has already made on the team as a coach.
Assistant Coach Ellie Edles feels that Alexis’ attitude, comfortability and confidence with the players garners their attention.
“She speaks up a lot and the girls really listen to her,” Edles said. “The girls really respect her both as a player and as person, but also she is super relatable for them.”
Edles not only works alongside Alexis on the coaching staff, but is also her tennis partner when they compete in professional tennis tournaments.
Staying active on the court allows Alexis to constantly understand the game from a player’s standpoint and apply it as a coach.
The strong bond between the coaching staff is an important factor for the Titans as they prepare to make history in the approaching season.
Eldes and Matias agree that Alexis is “a huge addition” to the staff and although she won’t be on the court, she will still be a key player in winning the Big West Tournament.
“She is definitely going to help us reach our goals for this season and having three coaches on the court helps Ellie and I a lot,” Matias said.
Alexis is positive that her own personal drive will end with her and her team hoisting up the Big West trophy at the end of the season.
“Since my freshman year, my ultimate goal has always been to win the Big West so that’s always been my goal,” Alexis said. “Every year we got closer and closer. Last year we got to the semifinals so I’m just hoping this year, as a coach, (I want to do) everything that I can do to get to the ultimate goal which is winning the Big West.”