New Courts Inspire Big Dreams
The duel begins
The sun bears down on an early summer morning in Mānoa. Tennis racket in hand, John Nelson stares across the net, lightly tosses a ball in the air and sends it hurtling toward his opponent. The duel begins.
"I’m all over this guy!" the Rainbow Warriors men’s tennis coach jokes after winning a hard-fought point against team member Jarrod Diepraam. Though Nelson’s experience is worn down by Diepraam’s youth, his joy in the game is undiminished.
"I love coaching and teaching," he says, as he sits down to talk. "I have a passion for tennis. My twin brother and I would play at the park until the lights went out. I knew it would take a lot of hard work to succeed."
Nelson earned NCAA Division II All-American honors at California State University–Hayward, played professionally in Europe and counts San Diego State University’s back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships among the highlights of a 20-year coaching career.
The Chi of Tennis
He draws on elements from martial arts like jiujitsu to train Hawaiʻi players. "I certainly wouldn’t call us jiujitsu experts," laughs Diepraam. "But once we learned about the philosophy of martial arts and how to apply it to tennis, the positive results were obvious. When Coach Nelson first came, I was struggling, but he has been a great influence."
During his two years at Mānoa, Nelson also superintended improvements to the campus tennis courts. It wasn’t just a resurfacing project—space between courts was increased to improve sight lines, seating areas with bleachers were created and lighting improved.
"Now there’s this gorgeous facility where fans can come out and support us and see the talent we have. It’s a tremendous motivation," Nelson says. In a state that can’t ask for better weather for tennis year-round, he doesn’t see this facility as just for UH. "I see it as a part of the future of Hawaiʻi tennis, at all levels."
New Courts, Big Dreams
It’s boosted the level of Rainbow Warrior play. The team lost just one senior after a strong 2005 season. "There was significant improvement made during the season. This year the goal is to win the Western Athletic Conference, something I believe we can do," Nelson says.
He relates a compliment received during this year’s WAC men’s and women’s championships, hosted by Mānoa for the first time since 1984: "Rice’s head men’s coach said this is one of the nicest facilities he has seen, and they’re one of the best teams in the country. He said he fully expects our program at Hawaiʻi to take off in the next year or two."
Freshman and ʻIolani graduate Derrick Lajola is excited about the future. "I’ve always heard people talk about how isolated the islands are, but this facility makes it that much better for the public to get involved," he says. "When I chose to stay here, it was to play in front of family, where they could see me develop as a player and a person. With Coach Nelson here, I feel fortunate to be a part of the Hawaiʻi program."
Nelson makes it no secret he feels the same. "With this unbelievable facility, I can see us ranked every year. I think Hawaiʻi is a sleeping giant in the tennis world, and the university has made a commitment to making this program as successful as it can be. I love it out here. I don’t ever want to leave."