Men’s Tennis: Torricelli to receive highest honor

Brian Chappatta

For 24 years, Paul Torricelli was the face of men’s tennis at Northwestern.

Today, he will become the third Wildcats face to be inducted into the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, joining Paul Bennett (1931-58) and Clare Riessen (1958-75).

Torricelli compiled an impressive list of accomplishments during his tenure with the Cats from 1984 to 2007. He finished with a 343-257 career record at NU, including a 162-114 mark in Big Ten play. His teams set the school record for most dual wins in a season, and he netted the Big Ten Coach of the Year award three times.

Torricelli is the only coach among this year’s class. He said he was surprised when he found out he was going to be among those selected.

“It’s an incredible honor to be inducted,” Torricelli said. “It was totally unexpected. I actually found out a year ago this past February, and I was blown away.”

The Cats had 28 players named to the All-Big Ten team under Torricelli, and three players – Todd Martin (1990), Alex Witt (1997) and Marc Silva (1998) – were named Big Ten Players of the Year.

In addition to his players, Torricelli was successful in getting the best out of his assistant coaches. Six of Torricelli’s former assistant coaches are now head coaches in college tennis – including current NU coach Arvid Swan.

“He gave me my first opportunity in college tennis, and I’m appreciative of that opportunity, as are all of the assistants that worked under him,” Swan said shortly after the announcement was made. “It’s a great honor for Paul to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I know that he’s excited and so are all the assistant coaches as well as his former players.”

Torricelli said picking his assistant coaches was an inexact science. He was looking for individuals motivated to help and committed to the profession as a career.

“What I gave them was a chance to jump in and become invested in some ownership in the program – from the day they walked in,” Torricelli said. “Every single one of them grabbed the opportunity and ran with it. But they worked incredibly hard for nothing in order to have an opportunity to be a part of our program and get started in the profession.”

Torricelli noted that this tradition has continued this season with Swan and assistant coach Chris Drake. Drake was recently named the ITA Midwest Region Assistant Coach of the Year.

With a young roster, the only two current players to have played under Torricelli are junior Alex Sanborn and senior Marc Dwyer. Sanborn said he remembers Torricelli as a coach who truly cared about his players, which factored into his decision to play at NU.

“He really felt welcoming and I felt that was important in a head coach,” Sanborn said. “I knew right off the bat he would take care of me while I was here. I knew he had my best intentions at heart and that made my decision easier to come to Northwestern.”

Taking care of his players meant being honest with them. Torricelli said the friendships he developed with his players generally came after they were done playing. He wanted to treat them like adults.

That meant sometimes being friendly, while at other times getting in their faces.

“I wasn’t afraid to get on my players at all, but at the same time they knew I would be there and support them,” Torricelli said. “I think that’s the foundation of the friendship that’s there when they leave. They know that you were doing the best for them – even if they didn’t like it – while they were there.”

Throughout this past season, NU has prided itself on going out and competing hard in every match and in every practice. Torricelli said that out of anything a player can do to show respect, constantly playing hard is the highest form.

“The highest compliment a coach can have is to have his players play hard for him,” Torricelli said. “I’ll never forget what it was like to watch guys year in and year out play so hard for you as a coach. I think it was one of the real perks of the job.”

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