Stepping on the court as the top seed in the Pac-12 Championships, one would expect head coach Paul Goldstein and the Stanford men’s tennis team to be nervous. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the young team, the Cardinal have caught fire in recent weeks, defeating highly-ranked conference foes USC and UCLA in back-to-back days and securing a split Pac-12 Championship for the first time since 2010.
However, the young team doesn’t show the burdens of its success on the practice courts. Long rallies between senior captains John Morrissey and Robert Stineman on Court 3 are punctuated by elaborate celebrations. Junior Maciek Romanowicz ends his points with trademark intensity and vocal support. At the center of it all is Goldstein, a four-time All-American during his playing career at Stanford. The first-year head coach appears totally unfazed by the newfound expectations of his team, a mindset he has worked hard to instill in his players.
“Going into the season, I didn’t really talk or think much about performance goals — we only talked about what we’ve been working on to get better and really going for process over outcome,” Goldstein said.
The players have heard the phrase “process over outcome” all season, but the coach says that only recently the message has truly started to resonate.
“There have been some times in the season where guys have put themselves in a position to win the match, and they’ve let up a little bit because they weren’t focused on the present,” he said.
The notion of “trusting the process” is a common phrase in coaching. However, it’s a hard concept for players to buy into, especially when the results don’t come right away. Stineman thinks that it’s worked for the Cardinal because of good coaching and team chemistry.
“Coach Goldstein has been so amazing, and the reason it’s been so easy to buy into is that it’s made tennis more fun,” Stineman said. “I think this is the time in my life I’ve enjoyed tennis the most, simply because I’m not letting wins and losses wear me down.”
When seniors like Stineman and Morrissey buy in to the ideals of a first-year coach, it’s easier for the rest of the team to fall in line. For a young team, emphasizing the process of getting better seems like the natural course of action. What seems unnatural is just how much better the team has gotten over the course of the season. Stineman credits the team’s rapid development to the chemistry the players have developed.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time together, and when you become close like that, it’s easier to go out there and fight for your team,” Stineman said. “I think this is the closest team I’ve been a part of this season, and that’s been really special.”
Before losing narrowly to Cal on Saturday, the Cardinal had won their previous 10 dual matches. The team has been especially hot on doubles, securing the doubles point in their last 11 matches.
“I think my strengths as a tennis player get displayed better on the doubles court, and I think that’s also the case for a lot of the guys on the team,” Stineman noted.
He and fellow co-captain Morrissey have been Stanford’s top doubles team all season and have posted victory after victory on the way to becoming the 13th ranked doubles team in the country. The Cardinal has taken advantage of the new shortened doubles format, with just a single set going to six games and no advantage scoring.
“Since doubles is such a short format this year, it’s really important to come out strong and bring the energy,” Stineman added. “Earlier in the year, we were a little tense, maybe trying too hard for the doubles point, and we lost a bunch of them.”
Apart from the impressive doubles record, Stanford has relied on three freshmen to hold spots in the singles lineup. Tom Fawcett has been on Court 1 for the Cardinal all season, posting a 25-9 record and maintaining a top-50 national ranking. Despite Fawcett’s tremendous accomplishments, David Hsu is the freshman to watch going into the Pac-12 Championships. Hsu has won his last eight matches, providing consistent points for the Cardinal in close matches. David Wilczynski, who has played on every singles court this season, rounds out the Stanford rookies. The combined efforts from Stineman, Morrissey and the freshmen are symbolic of the overall direction of the program, which is at the intersection of a successful present and an even more promising future. Faced with combining results and development, the players return to a familiar mantra.
“Process over outcome,” Stineman said. “We’re just thinking about what can make us the best tennis players possible instead of thinking about wins and losses. If you work on the right things, the process will take care of itself.”
Contact Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu.