Anik Cepeda is not new to tennis. Having grown up playing juniors from ages 5 to 18 before playing collegiately at William and Mary, tennis has always been a part of Cepeda’s life. So when the women’s tennis head coach position opened up after Alison Swain ’01 announced her departure for the University of Southern California, Cepeda applied and got the job. “This is too good to be true,” she said.
While new to the head coach position, Cepeda is not new to the College. In 2013-14, she was an assistant coach under Swain and Men’s Tennis Head Coach Dan Greenberg ’08. She took a break from tennis after that year and became a wilderness therapy field instructor in Utah, taking adolescents and adults struggling with mental health issues into the wilderness. “We went backpacking, and I showed them basic life skills,” she said.
Although that year did not involve tennis, she has felt the sport’s influence in every part of her life. “[Tennis] just shifted my perspective on what we can be about every day,” she said. “It helped [me] with having patience. As a coach, I ask myself, ‘What can I actually control right now? How can I actually be supportive and understanding when I’m wanting too much control, and when that frustration is bubbling up?’ It helps, too, with empathy, so I’m able to understand when wants and needs aren’t being met.”
However, the year off made Cepeda think about her career ambitions. “I saw that there was a lot of overlap between what I was doing out in the field [and tennis],” she said, “but I really missed tennis.” She took an assistant position at Div. I Marshall, in Huntington, W.V., to get back in the swing of things.
In her first head coach role, Cepeda is learning how to manage more responsibilities. “You’re just calling all the shots,” she said. At the moment, she is also without an assistant coach, so she does not “have that second voice telling me, ‘yeah, go for it that’s great’ or ‘whoa, what are you doing here?’”
The biggest difference between being an assistant coach and a head coach is the time commitment. “It’s your program, so you’re working with the players to create something,” she said. “As an assistant, you’re facilitating that and adding your own input, but the main idea comes from the players and the [head] coach.”
Additionally, being a tennis coach does not necessarily mean you get to play a lot of tennis, a reality that is sometimes difficult for Cepeda. “I definitely miss playing,” she said. “I miss the competition of being in it, but I really love this role, of getting to see the development and progression and growth of an individual and getting to be a part of that. And [I like] introducing my own layer as well into every day or every interaction.”
Cepeda’s former colleagues also expressed enthusiasm about her new position. “I was very excited when Anik decided to apply for the position and thrilled – but not surprised – when she got the job,” Greenberg said. “She was an awesome assistant coach because she always brought positive energy no matter what; she was an accomplished athlete who played and understood the game at a high caliber; and she was very balanced, setting a great example for our student-athletes.
“I think she’s going to do an outstanding job as head coach, and [the College] is definitely fortunate to have her back.”
Cepeda gave credit to her predecessor, Swain, for building up the tennis program. Swain led the team to eight NCAA Div. III titles in the last 10 years, so Cepeda has some big shoes to fill. The titles, however, do not change her focus. “When I’m coaching in the moment, I’m not thinking about those things,” she said.
But coming into a winning program is not always easy. “I think we’re doing well, and I also think that there’s still a long way to go,” she said. “I think there’s still a lot of excitement for new things and a fresh start for a lot of them. And an opportunity to find their voice, if they didn’t have a voice before. The dynamic was different. So that adjustment period will take a while, and I don’t know that we’re all in sync yet, but we’re working on it.”
Besides gearing up for the season, Cepeda and the team are starting to reach out more to the community. The women’s and men’s teams are hosting a mixed doubles alumni event on Sunday. There will be an entry fee to play, and “anyone who comes and watches is welcome to donate as well,” she said. Each team will select a charity to whom the profits will be donated. Cepeda emphasized that she wanted to “start engaging with our community on a giving level, and also encourage them to come out and be a part of that spirit that we have.”
With the start of the school year and of the fall season, Cepeda will no doubt be busy in her new role. If she finds herself with some free time? “Ideally, if I did have free time, [I] would have a cup of coffee and work on a crossword,” she said. “But that will be in, I don’t know when. Not yet.”
For now, Cepeda and the Ephs will be on the courts.