Santa Clara, Calif.- The Santa Clara men's tennis team is thrilled to have a new addition on its coaching staff. After coaching at WCC-rival Loyola Marymount, Aaron Paajanen (AP) is looking forward to assisting head coach Derek Mills with the challenge of guiding the Broncos to the NCAA tournament. Paajanen has a wealth of experience in the sport of tennis that even includes a stint on the ITF/USTA circuit. SantaClaraBroncos.com sat down with Paajanen to learn more about him and what he hopes to accomplish here at Santa Clara.
SCB: Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
AP: I grew up in Phoenix and both of my parents played tennis in college at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. My dad was my high school tennis coach at North Canyon High School. I played more basketball in high school than tennis but I realized that I probably had more of a future in tennis, so I decided to pursue that and played in college for four years.
After college I tried playing professionally but injuries prevented me from doing that full-time, so I went into coaching. I wanted to be in a competitive field, so I wanted to get back into the college scene.
I had the opportunity to be the assistant at LMU for four years. When the Santa Clara job became available I jumped at it because of the accomplishments of Santa Clara over the last four years.
SCB: What did you gain from your experience at LMU?
AP: Having been a player and then a coach, I really gained a different perspective on how things are. It's a completely different world. I knew I wanted to be a coach, but then to actually experience coaching and see things through a coach's eyes, it was completely different than my original college experience [as a player].
At LMU I had a lot of responsibility right off the bat. It helped me learn by actually doing things, rather than someone just telling me, and I was able to learn a lot through that.
So much of coaching is not just the on-court stuff. Obviously the recruiting is important, but you also have to manage a budget. Something I didn't appreciate as much as a player and now do as a coach is all the resources players have. Being able to see that as a coach makes me wish I had appreciated it more as a player.
As a player, you've got the resources, the players to practice with, the courts to play on, you don't worry about booking flights, hotels and paying for hotels. All that stuff is taken care of. It was something that opened my eyes more and made me appreciate what I had as a player.
SCB: Why did you join SCU tennis?
AP: The success that Santa Clara has had; going to the NCAA tournament two years ago, taking out Texas, and being competitive against Stanford. I see there continuing to be a bright future for Santa Clara, so if I can be a part of that for however long, I wanted to jump at that opportunity.
I also liked the idea of staying in California and staying within the West Coast Conference. I think it's been one of the stronger conferences in tennis the last couple of years.
SCB: Had you known Bronco head coach Derek Mills or assistant coach Rudy Siwy before joining Santa Clara?
AP: I had known Rudy a little bit before he was coaching at Santa Clara as I had met him at some tournaments. I've known Derek through coaching against him. I know that the [former] head coach at LMU, Brad [Sceney], had a lot of respect for Derek and knew it would be a great opportunity. That also made me feel a lot better about the decision to come here, having his support and recommendation.
SCB: What are your expectations for the 2014 season?
AP: I want to go to the NCAA tournament. I wanted to go last year, but wasn't part of a team that was going to go. I think that opportunity is definitely realistic here. It's definitely not going to be easy, it's a tough conference and schedule, so we're going to have to compete from the very beginning.
SCB: What needs to happen for the team to reach the NCAA tournament?
AP: I think the focus is on making sure we're competing all year with lot of energy, staying intense, and being ready for each match. We just need to compete from Day 1, the talent is there.
SCB: You have experience coaching top doubles teams. What are your thoughts on coaching doubles?
AP: I've had the opportunity to be surrounded by some good coaches, from my dad to Brad at LMU. Brad really knows the game, knows doubles and I was able to learn a lot from him. If I had to pick a bright spot from last season at LMU, we did well in doubles. I feel like I have a good grasp of the game and how to play doubles, the strategy, the court positioning, where players should be, where the ball should be hit and the discipline it takes to be able to play doubles. Hopefully that's something I can help out here.
SCB: Could you talk about the importance of the doubles point?
AP: It's definitely just one point but at least for me I always liked going into singles knowing we had a point on the scoreboard, it definitely doesn't hurt being able to secure that win. The talent is definitely here to be able to do that.
SCB: What do you like to do outside of tennis?
AP: Pretty much anything competitive. Last Monday was my first day up here, and I got up at 4:30am with a friend to play basketball. I always like being surrounded with anything competitive.
I also like going to college basketball games. I'm going to try and be at as many Santa Clara basketball games as possible this year. I'm a big hockey fan, too. Since my team, the Detroit Redwings, are moving to the Eastern Conference, I think now it might be possible for me to root for the Sharks, since they're not as much of a rival. I can't stand the [Los Angeles] Kings.