Women’s Tennis: Ex-Wildcat Nida Hamilton returns to Evanston as coach, bonds with current players


Daily file photo by Meghan White

Nida Hamilton hits a backhand during her time as a student-athlete. Hamilton last played for the Wildcats in 2014 and is now a volunteer assistant coach.

Mike Marut, Reporter

Women’s Tennis

Players make the best coaches — they understand the sport and can relate to other players on an intimate level because of the shared experience.

For Nida Hamilton, having played for Northwestern coach Claire Pollard gives her an even stronger relationship with Pollard’s new players, stronger than one she would have coaching any other team.

Hamilton graduated in 2014 after helping champion the most recent Big Ten title for Pollard and the Wildcats. During part of her time as a student-athlete and for a year after leaving, Hamilton helped coach teens in the Chicago area, but she said she missed the level of skill and competition that exists in collegiate tennis — especially at NU.

“I was coaching for about two years before this,” Hamilton said. “It was fun, but I wanted to have a little bit better hitting. I really enjoyed coaching (the teens), and I figured I would give this a try.”

Hamilton is the Cats’ first volunteer assistant coach since Keri Robison in Spring 2012. Having been on the team at that time, Hamilton was able to play under the guidance of a former player. Now, Hamilton takes up that mantle of player-turned-coach. While Hamilton played, her career overlapped with players currently on the roster, including senior Alicia Barnett; juniors Manon Peri, Brooke Rischbieth and Jillian Rooney; and redshirt sophomore Maddie Lipp.

Because of the teammate relationship, Hamilton said she has found it hard to accept the label as volunteer assistant coach in anything but name. She said she still identifies “almost as a teammate,” and she only considers herself a coach on match day since she no longer competes at the collegiate level.

Pollard said that identity makes it easier for Hamilton’s former teammates to approach her, play with her and feel comfortable around her. Even though they are all still friends, Hamilton has the capacity to critique their play and help them improve.

“She knows my game, she knows my personality really well,” Barnett said. “She knows what I need on a certain day and what I don’t need. It’s really good to have someone who knows me really well.”

Barnett added that as a former Wildcat, Hamilton understands what Pollard expects from her players. This puts Hamilton in a better position, as she is familiar with Pollard’s coaching style and can more easily help teach new players how to succeed as part of the program.

“She respects the boundary she has to have as a coach,” Pollard said. “I still think they consider her a friend, and she doesn’t really play the bad guy role very much. She leaves that to (assistant coach Laura Gordon) and I. She’s able to sustain really good relationships with them.”

As a coach, Hamilton said she also has her voice heard “a little bit more” than when she was a player. Hamilton occupies a position that puts her on the same level as both the players and Pollard — a unique space that allows for both respect and camaraderie.

Hamilton said because of her relationship with Pollard, the transition was easy from player to coach. She does not have to start with a brand new slate but rather can build off her experience as a player.

Pollard said she only finds positive results of having Hamilton as her volunteer assistant. Hamilton is able to relate to the players in a different way than she can, Pollard said. She said she also finds that it helps to have a coach who understands NU’s high standards.

“I don’t think there’s much adjustment,” Pollard said. “She’s not surprised by anything. It’s really easy for her to see it and see things evolve and change. I don’t really need to help her too much because she knows what’s going on all the time.”

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