Back in July, Castleton University’s women’s tennis team brought in a new head coach, Kirsten Kruk, a former multi-sport athlete at Castleton. The former NAC First Team All-Conference star met Thursday to share her athletic experiences.
Q. So, you were quite the star for the women’s tennis team here, and now you’re back here coaching that tennis team. How awesome does that feel?
A. It’s so cool. Being an alumni from the sport, and being able to give back and improve the program has been awesome, I mean when Deanna asked me to take over the position it was a no-brainer for me. I’ve always loved tennis, and I’ve loved the Castleton program. It’s always been such a safe space for me, so I’m very happy to return to it and give back to the school that I love so much.
Q. I’ve noticed that a lot of coaches and professors had previously attended Castleton. What’s your reason for coming back to Castleton?
A. I graduated in 2019, so I’m not that far removed from graduation, and I got a degree here in health and physical education, so that’s a teacher tract. I’m from New York and in order to teach there, you need to have a master’s degree in education to be able to teach. For me, I didn’t want to go back to school a bunch of years later, I wanted to just do it right away, that’s how I learn best. Castleton has a great education master’s program, so I looked into that, and I actually became the graduate assistant for the alpine ski team for the past two years. So I graduated in 2019, then Fall of 2020 I started up as the GA for the ski team, so for the past two years I’ve been here getting my master’s degree and I’m still going through the motions of figuring out how to become a head coach just by what I learned from Chris Eder, the alpine ski coach. He was a great mentor for me, and I got to see the ins and outs of being in that coaching role. Now I’ve got my master’s degree taken care of, and the whole ski job was a great experience, so it was a very easy transition into being a head coach, and now I’m in this middle-period where I don’t have a full-time teaching job, and this was just the natural next step and it worked out perfectly.
Q. When you were still attending Castleton, was coaching there even a thought? Or was it a spontaneous opportunity popped up.
A. I definitely didn’t think I’d ever be the head coach here. I didn’t even really imagine myself working for the school as I was attending. I was on all these teams, I was on the lacrosse team, alpine ski team, and tennis team, so I was just really going through my motions. I’m not one to think too far ahead in life. I like to have a plan, but I also know that life happens, things come up. I don’t stick to a five-year-plan or anything like that so this wasn’t really on my radar, but I had such a great tennis coach here that I learned so much from, and I always thought that he was so knowledgeable and I was learning all this stuff from him and I was like “man, I could never give someone this much knowledge,” but as I see myself in the role, and I see everything I’m able to give to the new athletes that I’m able to coach, I see that I learned so much from him that he really prepared me for this by just being a great coach and mentor. I never thought I would one day take his place, but I hope I make him proud.
Q. So you played tennis, lacrosse, and you skied. Which sport was your favorite?
A. I’d have to say alpine skiing. I know, sorry to my tennis people, but I was recruited here to be an alpine ski racer. Even through elementary school, middle school, high school and into college, skiing was always my thing. I was strictly an alpine skier, and then I kinda took on these new sports on the side to help stay in shape. Tennis is a great sport to play in the offseason, and especially for skiers because of that back and forth motion, it’s actually very similar to ski racing, and I even tell the skiers to play tennis. But skiing was always my number-one thing and if it came down to it and I was forced to make a choice about any of my sports, I would have to pick skiing. Luckily this school is amazing, and I was never put in that situation. I was always encouraged to do as much as I wanted to, and all of my coaches here were very supportive of that. Although, the team aspect of tennis was one of the best teams I’ve ever been on. We always had so much fun, but we were still competitive, and it was nice to have such a great group of girls that all came from so many different areas, and I made so many friendships that I don’t think I ever would’ve thought to make, but I made them on the tennis team.
Q. What is your favorite memory from tennis?
A. In my senior year, me and my doubles partner, Megan Nadler, were playing against Rhode Island College. We were always very good communicators, and when we were together we were probably stronger than we were in our individual signals play. It was our first year as an LEC team, and Rhode Island College is one of the better schools in the LEC, which is already very tough. We were playing against programs that were already established, and had top recruits from places like Russia. We fought hard the entire game, just going back-and-forth, and we were like “oh my god, we can do this, we can win,” and we ended up beating them, which was incredible. We were the only win on the day, and we struggled that whole season but that one win was one of the best things we’ve ever done. We still talk about it too, we’ll be like “hey, remember when we did that?” So that was probably one of my favorite tennis moments.
Q. So far, what has been the best part about coaching?
A. The best part is definitely getting to hang out with such a great group of girls. I love everyone on the team, they all bring something to the table that makes it such a unique environment, and being able to work with each of them as individuals and as players on my team has been so awesome. A lot of the girls decided on their own whim to join the team, none of them really got recruited, and watching their growth, even in such a short amount of time, I’ve been able to see a lot of growth through the drills we’ve chosen to do. When you’re a coach and you see that you were able to say something to make an impact on their ability and their play, that’s one of the best things a coach could ever get to experience.
Q. What has been the hardest part of coaching?
A. One of the hardest parts is that LEC play is really competitive for tennis. A lot of the teams we play are very established, they have full-time coaches that have been there for a while, they recruit hard, and they get a lot of good tennis players. We have a lot of tough competition, so being in the LEC, and trying to build our name and build our program and take on these teams. We’ve had to change our mentality and we know that we can win, we should win, and we have the skill to win. But it’s definitely been difficult, and I know it’s difficult for the girls, but they battle hard everyday and I respect them for that everyday.