John Morrissey had big shoes to fill on the Stanford men’s tennis team this year.
With the departure of the team’s top two players, Bradley Klahn ’12 and Ryan Thacher ’12, the sophomore stepped up to the No. 1 singles position, leading a relatively young team against some of the toughest competition in the nation.
While Klahn admitted that it “really put pressure on the entire team” when he and Thacher graduated, he was confident in Morrissey’s leadership capabilities. Klahn and Morrissey played together as a doubles team in some matches near the end of last season, giving Klahn the opportunity to pass on some of his knowledge and advice.
“[Morrissey] came to work every day and was excited to practice, and I think that’s the biggest thing about being a leader,” Klahn said. “He certainly has those characteristics of getting the work done and a great team guy and all these positives.”
It’s taken time for Morrissey to adapt to his role as the new team leader and No. 1 singles player, as just last spring he was playing No. 4 singles and dreaming of following in the footsteps of a confident senior with an NCAA singles title.
“Coming in as a freshman, I was playing a little bit of a follower’s role,” Morrissey said. “Brad and Ryan were our two leaders and had so much experience, so I was playing a support role and trying to do my job back there on the back courts and learn as much as I could.”
Morrissey said that adjusting to collegiate play in general has been a significant challenge, as college tennis is “completely different” from playing in the junior circuit and he has been facing tough competition at the No. 1 spot this year.
“I’m no longer playing against guys my age — I’m playing against guys who are a lot older than me,” Morrissey said. “[The coaches] taught me how to combat that and play more aggressive and change up my style.”
Klahn agreed that collegiate tennis is a “a whole different ball game,” and said that the pressure of playing in the top spot can weigh on young but experienced players like Morrissey, who may still be adjusting to the team atmosphere.
“You’re getting the best of each team every match, and you have to be really up to the task,” Klahn said. “It can set the tone for the rest of the match when the guys down at the bottom of the lineup and everyone else is just kind of looking up at you. You have to be composed and have a confident presence about you.”
While Klahn expressed confidence in Morrissey’s ability to steer the team, the Cardinal’s transition to new leadership has not come without challenges. Under Klahn, who now plays professionally, the team advanced to two straight NCAA quarterfinals and ended last year ranked ninth in the nation.
This year, the team has struggled to close out matches and will enter the Pac-12 Championships with a 3-4 conference record and a No. 42 national ranking.
Klahn has been following the team’s progress this year and said that, though this year has been a “tough time” for the team, he is optimistic that some of the closer matches will “start falling their way.”
Klahn was also impressed with Morrissey’s transition to the top position, praising his increasingly aggressive yet consistent play throughout the past two seasons.
“[Morrissey] was always able to play really well, and I think it was just kind of gaining that belief that he could hang in there with those guys,” Klahn said. “Sometimes you may have the game to play with the top guys, but the confidence takes a little while to catch up.”
While Klahn may be traveling around the world to play in professional tournaments, he still takes time to mentor the players he left back on the Farm. Though Klahn hasn’t been able to come back to campus as often as he would like, he said that he is “always checking up” on the team, which hasn’t gone unappreciated by Morrissey.
“I still keep in touch with him, I send him messages and he watches some of my matches and gives me pointers,” Morrissey said. “He obviously has helped me a ton. I think just trying to feed off his experience and pick his brain about little things might make a huge difference in my game.”
The Cardinal’s regular season concluded with a 4-3 loss to No. 18 Cal on Saturday, and the team’s next match will come with the start of the Pac-12 Championships tomorrow. Stanford is the No. 4 seed and will be playing either Arizona or Washington, which the team defeated 6-1 and 4-3, respectively, earlier in the season.
“We know we’re a really good team, and we’ve just been a few games away from making a really big breakthrough,” Morrissey said. “We are going to go down there and hopefully make a statement and bring that forward to the NCAAs.”
Regardless of the outcome of the Pac-12 Tournament, Morrissey is looking forward to a strong season next year.
“As a team, I think there are really bright spots ahead. We are a really young team getting in a couple of good recruits next year,” Morrissey said. “I think we can look forward to a big season next year and hopefully build on everything we learned this year and the tough times and the tough losses we’ve had.”
Contact Olivia Moore at omoore ‘at’ stanford.edu.