When Rob Castille took the helm of the men’s tennis program at GW, he only had one week to practice with his team before the Colonials competed in their final tournament of the fall season.
Castille said coming into the program midseason has been a “whirlwind,” but forming a strong connection with his team hasn’t been difficult. The bigger challenges have come from moving to a new city, learning a new department and other things on the administrative side of being a head coach, he said.
“I’m surprised by how quickly I’ve bonded with the team,” Castille said. “Surprised and not surprised because I was not necessarily expecting it this quickly.”
Getting familiar with the team and making changes to practices and tactics is easier at the beginning of the season than in the middle, Castille said, but his focus coming into the tail end of the fall season was to take note of changes that need to be made beyond the fall season.
“The least worrisome thing about the whole job has been just the actual coaching and being on the court with the team,” Castille said.
After only a week of working together as a team, the Colonials set out for their first showing under Castille at the Navy Gold Invite.
Freshmen Ryan Navarro, Ben Barnett and Michael Barsky and junior Dennis Afanasev posted perfect 3–0 records in their respective flights at the tournament. Freshman duo Hanyu Liu and Navarro advanced to the final round of the “A” Flight Doubles.
Castille said he noticed his team was nervous to play under him for the first time and wanted to impress him, but after the first day of competition, the team started to settle on the court.
“Overall, I was very pleased with them,” Castille said. “There’s obviously things that we can improve upon, both as a team and as each player individually, but overall, I was definitely pleased and impressed with the effort and the attitude.”
Junior Jakub Behun said the invitational was a good chance for each player to figure out which aspects of their game need to be refined for the spring season.
“We worked very hard in our preparation during the first two months of the fall season,” Behun said. “Now the past week with Coach Castille definitely gave us a new kind of energy to do even better.”
Afanasev – who swept his opponents at the Navy Gold Invitational – said Castille encourages more team enthusiasm on the court which is a “new era” for the team.
“We didn’t have as intense of an environment in the past,” Afanasev said. “I think that this is something new to the program.”
Behun said Castille’s energetic coaching style has created a competitive atmosphere at practice that is good for the team.
Castille said he wants to implement a higher level of competition in all aspects of play and he wants his team to focus on their mental toughness and effort on the court instead of focusing just on wins and losses.
“He’s really good with making us feel like we’re playing a match, which really brings in a little bit of the pressure that you need in practices,” Behun said.
Behun said it was “a little challenging” to get a new head coach in the middle of the semester, but Castille’s experience and knowledge of the game will benefit the team in the long run when GW competes in the spring.
With seven new freshmen on the team, both Castille and Behun pointed to doubles as an area that needs improvement for the upcoming season.
The Colonials will enter the spring season coming off their first losing record since the 2007-08 season. GW went 6–18 last season and just two Colonial doubles teams – then-seniors Chris Fletcher and Christos Hadjigeorgiou, and senior Behun and 2018-graduate Chris Reynolds – held winning doubles records.
“Doubles has been something that has been a little bit of a weakness for us now, and that’s been our main focus,” Castille said.
While the team is still getting to know each other and their new coach, Castille said he will be upfront and honest about where they stand on the team and how they can continue to get better as players to build trust.
“It will take some time to fully realize that kind of trust and bond and everything like that,” Castille said. “But I like where we are right now.”