Tennis coach back where it all began

New Tennis head coach, Douglas Potkay, is eager to return to Rider and start the next chapter of his career (Bottom photo, which was taken in 1974, courtesy of Douglas Potkay).
New Tennis head coach, Douglas Potkay, is eager to return to Rider and start the next chapter of his career (Bottom photo, which was taken in 1974, courtesy of Douglas Potkay).


By Thomas Albano

One of the things on Rider Athletics’ “to-do list” for this past summer was to find a successor for long-time tennis Head Coach Ed Torres, who coached Rider tennis for 19 years, earning 224 victories.

On Aug. 4 it was announced via the GoBroncs website that the mission had been completed with the hiring of Douglas Potkay from Yardley, Pa. Potkay appreciates what Torres, a member of the Rider Athletics Hall of Fame, has done for the tennis program, but he is ready to take it to another level.

“As any coach comes in, they have their goals and their vision on what they want the program to be,” Potkay said. “So, I’m taking Ed’s program and just trying to step it up a notch.”

Potkay has had a long history with tennis. His passion for the sport began when he was a child, growing up in Mercer County. Potkay’s parents were prominent in the community, especially because of their tennis playing. His father even had a local “Potkay” tennis team in the 1950s-’60s. Potkay’s father was also a mixed doubles champion in Trenton with his wife, who started the Lawrenceville tennis camps back in the 1960s. The camps, according to Douglas Potkay, “went from maybe 30 [members] to 200.”

“Because I was at a higher level at that point, I actually helped my mother teach,” Potkay said. “I took over when I was in high school when she could no longer do it. So, I ran the program for a few years.”

Potkay’s first involvement with Rider was back in 1971 when he joined the tennis program. At the time, the program was under the direction of Bob Kilgus, who was inducted into the Rider Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000. Potkay played No. 2, while another future Rider Hall of Famer, Rick Strandskov, played the No. 1 spot. As the No. 2, Potkay went 12-0 and helped the team to the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Championship.

The following year, Potkay left Rider with hopes of playing professionally. That all changed when he went down to Florida, and ran into an individual who was attending another college, Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla. He would end up spending his college career there before graduating in 1976. As he arrived, however, he discovered there was just one tiny problem.

“There was no tennis program,” Potkay recalled. “I helped build it up. We didn’t even have a coach either.”

Potkay chose to build the program himself. He formed a three-man team between him, the same individual he met and a third individual they recruited. The first year’s mission of laying down the foundation and getting something going was a success to Potkay, who totaled a record of 32-2 before graduating and would be inducted into the Flagler College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

“We went from playing junior college teams to another schedule to going on spring break playing universities in Georgia like Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern,” Potkay said. “We did fairly well with them. The following year, they hired a coach and we went from NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] to NCAA Division II. So, it’s a nice feeling when you build a program up.”

After graduation, Potkay got back on his path to playing professionally. At a younger age, Potkay played in Middle States, a tournament designed to pit tennis players against other players with a similar skill level. Potkay did not get the best rankings because, according to him, he never reached his prime skill level until his sophomore year of college. At that point, he was near the top of the Middle States rankings, and he decided to take his playing to the next level.

During his pro career, Potkay competed nationally in Florida, Oklahoma and across the Midwest region of the United States. Internationally, Potkay competed in places including Bogotá, Colombia; Santiago, Chile; and Buenos Aries, Argentina. He would mainly compete on the Satellite Tour for young, up-and-coming tennis players. Towards the end of the season, he would attempt to qualify for Association for Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tournaments such as the U.S. Open.

“In Bogotá I actually got to the last round of qualifying and I was that close to getting into the ATP Tournaments,” Potkay said. “I did achieve a world ranking back then. It was in the three or four hundreds — it’s tough for me to remember those. I only had a couple of points back then but it was enough to get you rankings. I enjoyed it and got the experience.”

While Potkay never did qualify for the U.S. Open, he did get to compete in the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Indianapolis. However, that tournament would mark the beginning of the end of his professional career.

During that tournament, Potkay tore the meniscus in his right knee. He did not know it at the time and played on the bad knee for six months before it was diagnosed and he underwent knee surgery. Part of what went wrong, to Potkay, was that there weren’t as many medical advances.

“Today, you have that injury, you’re back playing within a month,” Potkay said. “You can recuperate a lot quicker. It took me three months to recuperate. Then another three months to get my knee and legs back into shape again. So, it was a lot harder back then than it is today.”

In only his late 20s, Potkay was forced to retire from active professional competition.

Potkay would end up teaching for a short time in Florida before returning to the Mercer County area to teach. However, he left tennis for a while. He entered the business world and started a family, raising three children.

Years later, Potkay would get the chance to come back to the sport he loved when he received a call from a familiar face — Strandskov.

“[Strandskov] was the assistant coach here [at Rider] and he told me they needed a coach at the Pennington School,” Potkay said. “I said I wasn’t sure because I was doing something else, but I did it. I called him up, went out there and I loved it.”

At the Pennington School, he would coach both boys’ and girls’ tennis.

Then, when the position of head coach for Rider tennis became vacant, he sent a résumé and Athletic Director Don Harnum believes they couldn’t have found a better man for the job.

“We are very fortunate to be able to add someone with Doug’s background to our coaching staff,” Harnum said. “In addition to his wealth of experience as both a player and a coach, Doug’s passion and energy for teaching, coaching, and recruiting was evident during the interview process.”

Potkay’s plan for the tennis teams will not be a one-year strategy. Some of the ideas include having the teams interact with the trainer more, as well as working with a nutritionist. Also, Potkay plans to go out and recruit as much as he can, looking for players who he knows can help build this program up to the next level and make a very competitive program in the MAAC.

Overall, for Potkay, the first year is about analyzing and setting forth the positive attitude for a new beginning.

“I’m setting a culture, trying to get a positive attitude,” Potkay said. “I don’t have too many goals as far as wins and losses because it’s unrealistic to talk about that just yet. The real goal is to get the culture on the tennis program to the way I want it to be, so we do have a winning attitude. It’s all about the attitude on the tennis court for any athlete. Work hard, practice hard, play hard.”

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