Q&A: Gene Carswell discusses COVID-19 challenges, benefits 


Courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

San Diego State men’s tennis head coach Gene Carswell looks on during a match at the SDSU Tennis Center.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State men’s tennis players have found ways to compete even without playing together during the pandemic. 

For example, freshman Judson Blair competed in the Oracle Intercollegiate Tennis Association Masters in October. 

The Daily Aztec caught up with head coach Gene Carswell to see how his program has been since the pandemic began as well as communication with players and his assistant coach.   

The Daily Aztec: How are you and the program doing right now? 

Gene Carswell: “I am doing pretty well, just navigating all the different protocols that go along with the worldwide pandemic. Preparations, as far as the group of guys that we have coming, I’m very excited about this group of Aztecs that will try to win a conference championship and hopefully a regular-season title. Unfortunately, we won’t have any team tournaments so far.” 

DA: Where is your team at in terms of repopulation protocols to return to the court?

GC: “We already have players back on the tennis court. So we have a partial group at the moment. We have about more than half the team with us and we are slowly but surely making progress. We have a couple of internationals who are, for a variety of different reasons, it will take them a little bit longer to get back to campus. But as they trickle in, they will get added into the group as well.”

DA: During this pandemic, your players have still found ways to play. What have you seen from them?

GC: “It’s interesting because tennis is kind of like that safe activity. So from that standpoint, we’re pretty fortunate that guys are able and play events while they are kind of playing independent from their collegiate team. The good thing is they keep up their skillset during times where they couldn’t because the fall (season) of the Mountain West (Conference) was basically cancelled. From that standpoint, it’s been awesome. These guys have been able to maintain their level and have opportunities to compete and play, compared to some other team sports.” 

DA: How have you been keeping in contact with your assistant coach and your players?

GC: “The contact is the easy part. Much like most other programs, we’ll get together for Zoom meetings as a team and then in our group, I don’t have to deal with 60 players. I am dealing with a group that is about 10, usually. The individual communication with each one of them, I am able to maintain and stay connected that way. As the world gets smaller, especially with my international guys, it’s not like how it used to be. You can, with your device, you can message, call and Facetime all over the world. That’s what we’ve been doing to keep up the line of communication going. We’ve done a pretty great job of that.”

DA: Every season you have been playing in fall tournaments. With no fall tournaments this year, will that hurt your team? 

GC: “Given the state of the world, everyone had to deal with it. The cards that everyone had been dealt are pretty similar. Everyone got some sort of challenge. I think we’ve navigated it pretty well. Keeping our guys back in their home countries and doing their academic part of the university online, gives them the opportunity to continue to train and progress and compete at the best level they can. Now in a perfect world, would I have rather had all of our guys back here, working with us and building the team unity? WIthout a doubt that would have been an obstacle, but all things considered, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of getting over the hurdles that have been placed in front of us.”

DA: How much more time have you had to watch tennis, watch film or recruit during the pandemic? 

GC: “We’re not able to actively recruit. We can network and virtually recruit. I just had a large group go through our program and I did a big chunk of recruiting. That being said, networking being able to connect with future players is something we’re always doing. As far as spending time, it has definitely given us time to take a look how we approach what we’re doing and what we’re doing with our players. There was definitely some idle times during that first semester where we got a different perspective and took a little different angle on maybe how we would do things with the group we would have. That being said, each one of our groups because we’re playing an individual sport played within a team concept, we’re always working with our individuals to help them improve and become the best player they can be because when they’re the best player they can be, then they are helping our team be the best team they can be. So that’s the approach we’ve taken. It has been fun from time to time to sit back and watch a little bit more eye-level tennis. Everything from Division I to professional tennis on the internet or on TV, but it is a little bit differently whereas we wouldn’t have as much time as we would in the past.”

DA: What are your expectations for your players in 2021?

GC: “We’re going to have a group that is really balanced across the board and I think we’re going to be a handful for all the teams that we face. Our goals for our team will be to continue to improve throughout the year and the season — don’t be shy against tough competition.”