Serving up hope

    Throughout Steven Ascher’s life there have been two undeniable constants, his passion for tennis and his love for Portland. Recently, Ascher has been given the opportunity to bring these significant aspects of his life together as the head coach of the brand new Portland State tennis team, which will be reinstated in the 2007-08 season.

    After the 2002 season Portland State was given clearance via a waiver from the Big Sky Conference to discontinue competition in tennis. At the time it was more financially feasible to cut the program than to continue competition. Portland State officials felt that the Big Sky was planning to change their policy that requires each school to have a tennis program. But after a four-year absence Portland State will be forced to reinstate the program to fulfill eligibility requirements from the Big Sky.

    With the plan to reinstate the tennis program into Portland State’s sports package, a native Portlander has been given the opportunity to live out a dream that he may have never thought possible.

    ”When they told me that they wanted to hire me on as the head coach I was extremely excited,” Ascher said. “To have the opportunity to coach in a place where I grew up is huge. Having the opportunity to be a head coach is a dream come true.”

    Rebuilding a Division I program from scratch in any sport isn’t an easy task, but luckily for Viking fans the young, bright Ascher appears to be just the man to do it. Ascher was raised in Portland, so he is familiar with the lifestyle and intricacies of the city, which interim athletic director Teri Mariani decided would be a key feature of the future head coach. Ascher played prep tennis just outside of Portland at Sunset High School and then hit the courts of Eugene to play for the Ducks at the University of Oregon. Additionally, with so many years spent on the court he brings a wealth of knowledge about the game, but since his roots are in the Northwest he will bring more of a hometown flavor to the Viks’ helm.

    ”I grew up in Portland and played tennis locally at the high schools and junior tournaments,” Ascher said. “So I have been involved with the city of Portland for a long time. Being able to come to Portland State and energize it with a tennis program is a dream.”

    Another important detail to note about Ascher is that he is a winner. He enjoyed the most success as an assistant coach at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa. from 1998 to 2000. During his stint at Millersville Ascher’s women’s tennis team made appearances in the 1999 and 2000 NCAA Division II Tournament, where they reached the Sweet Sixteen both years. Most recently, Ascher has held assistant coaching positions at The Academy in Portland from 2001-04 and at the University of Portland from 2001-02.

    A key to rediscovering his winning ways will be how he utilizes the upcoming year to prepare the team for competition because he isn’t inheriting a program with a couple of number-one talents or an established coaching staff. Rather, he is building the program from square one.

    ”I think that this is a very special opportunity because a lot of times when you come into a program you have players there. In this instance I will be recruiting all of the players that come in,” Ascher said. “So, right away the players will be putting an imprint on the program based on how we put the program together in terms of recruiting, building and accomplishing the idea of building a program that makes the students happy to be here.”

    The most urgent obstacle that the program currently faces is the recruiting process. Ascher expects that he will be coaching eight to 10 men and women by the time Portland State takes the courts. This year he will be scouring Portland, the state of Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest for suitable players to represent PSU in the Big Sky.

    ”I am going to keep a strong focus on the local tennis community,” Ascher said. “Within the Pacific Northwest there are 15 to 20 players that usually leave the state to go play at Division I programs. So, there is definitely a strong tennis base in the Northwest and also in the areas of Montana, Idaho and Northern California. We are going to look locally and within the region.”

    Despite the focus on recruiting players from the region, Ascher is willing to evaluate the talent that Portland State already has with the club team or any other students who are talented enough to play at the Division I level. He feels that the best option would be to have an open tryout for Portland State students.

    When Ascher does finish assembling his squad and finalizes his program, he has some very high expectations for both the performance level and demeanor of the Portland State tennis team. His intentions are not solely developing a team that can serve and volley effectively; that is a given. He really wants to create a team that has discipline and character. A team that Portland State fans, students, faculty and alumni can all be proud of.

    ”The most important thing for me is developing a professional aspect to the game,” Asher said. “I want people to be able to come and say, ‘Wow, this is a competitive team. They look professional and act professional on the court.'”