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How dreaming the impossible led Oklahoma State tennis to hosting NCAA Championships

STILLWATER — When Michael and Anne Greenwood decided they wanted to help fund a new facility for Oklahoma State tennis, the goal was immediate impact on the program, but the vision was much bigger.

“From the very beginning when we pledged our money, the goal was, we’re gonna build it so we can host a national championship,” Anne Greenwood told The Oklahoman this week as OSU is set to fulfill that dream as the host site for the NCAA men’s and women’s tennis championships — a 10-day event beginning Thursday at the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center.

“This is a moment we’ve been looking forward to since the moment we pledged our money, so this year is unbelievably special to us. It’s happening and I can’t believe it.”

Thirteen years after the initial conversations began for the facility that houses OSU tennis, the Greenwood Tennis Center will be the focal point of the sport’s biggest college event.

“When we sat down with the Greenwoods and we talked about them contributing the lead gift for an indoor facility, then it became about raising additional funding, and what I sold to the other donors was, ‘Let’s build a facility where we could host a national championship,” OSU director of tennis Chris Young said. “In all the planning and all the design of the facility, we tried to meet all the specifications that the NCAA was gonna have for a facility to host the championship.

“That was the vision we sold people on.”

The product was one of the best college tennis facilities in the country — and one that others have tried to emulate in the years since it was built.

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How OSU landed NCAA tennis championships

The only sad part about this week’s event is the Cowgirls’ absence. They were undefeated on the year and held the No. 1 seed in the tournament before an upset loss to 16th-seeded Tennessee in the super regional last weekend. The momentum of the match turned heavily when one of OSU’s top players, Lucia Peyre, suffered a knee injury during the singles matches.

But both the OSU men’s and women’s teams will have competitors in the singles and doubles individual tournament beginning early next week.

Beyond the competition, the journey OSU tennis has traveled to get here is almost hard to believe.

When Anne Greenwood first began attending matches with her father several years ago, the teams hosted their events on the outdoor cours at the Colvin Center, OSU’s on-campus recreational center for students.

That was still the case when Young was hired in 2009.

“There were so many times in my first four years — and it was the same for Coach (James) Wadley and everybody who came before me — of scheduling around what the Colvin had going on, what tennis classes were being held there, what intramurals were being held there,” Young said.

“We were fourth in line.”

Yet it was in the tiny metal bleachers of the Colvin Center when Greenwood first found her passion for OSU tennis, then began to dream of what she and her husband could do for the program’s future.

Greenwood’s father, Joe Morris, was a passionate tennis fan. He played recreationally into his mid-70s, and he’d often drive up from his home in the Lawton area to watch OSU matches at the Colvin.

So he’d invite his daughter to come over from her Tulsa home to watch with him. They became close with Wadley, who coached at OSU for 40 years before retiring in 2012.

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“The Colvin was woefully inadequate,” Greenwood said. “But we still watched.

“Coach Wadley put together such good teams with not a whole lot, and he always let my dad watch them play, watch them practice. And we really appreciated the student-athletes, who didn’t have facilities, didn’t have locker rooms. They gave so much to the university and were good students as well.”

Greenwood fell in love with OSU tennis, but it hurt her to know players would sometimes have to change clothes in their cars, or the team would have to drive an hour or more to practice or play an indoor match.

“We would drive to Oklahoma City or Edmond to use indoor courts at Oak Tree or The Greens,” Young said. “We had a couple places in Tulsa we could hit at. And even Ponca City Country Club had two indoor courts, and we used those quite a bit.

“Sometimes I’d take two trips a day. I’d take four girls up in the morning to practice, then four girls in the afternoon, just rotating around class schedules. Every day was a different schedule based on court availability.”

When Greenwood and her husband retired to Stillwater 17 years ago, he began to join her on those metal bleachers at the Colvin Center courts.

“We’re sitting there going, 'OK, this isn’t right,'” she said. “We couldn’t build a fanbase. We couldn’t play indoors if there was bad weather. So I roped my husband into thinking we could do something about this.”

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OSU tennis coach Chris Young at the Oklahoma State Cowgirls vs Michigan Wolverines Tennis Match, Friday, January 19, 2024, Greenwood Tennis Center, Stillwater, OK. Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
OSU tennis coach Chris Young at the Oklahoma State Cowgirls vs Michigan Wolverines Tennis Match, Friday, January 19, 2024, Greenwood Tennis Center, Stillwater, OK. Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics

Around the same time, Young had begun working to raise funds for new outdoor courts dedicated strictly to the tennis teams. Offering naming rights for individual courts, he believed he could gather the funding so his team would at least have a place to practice every day when the weather allowed, without having to schedule around other campus events.

But the Greenwoods were thinking bigger — in part because of a notion inspired by OSU’s greatest benefactor, Boone Pickens.

“His thing was, don’t wait until you’re dead, because what’s the fun in that? Give now, and see the difference you can make,” Anne said. “When we heard that, Mike and I took that to heart.

“We decided we’ve got to step up. Something’s got to happen. And if we’re going to do it, let’s do it the best we can do it.”

So the Greenwoods made the initial donation to begin work on the indoor facility, then the outdoor courts and seating areas.

“Whether it’s football or basketball or wrestling or tennis, you’ve got to have people who want to provide that kind of support,” OSU athletic director Chad Weiberg said. “If you’re going to be great, you’ve got to have great support.

“That’s what the Greenwoods provided. When they provided that support, they took our tennis program to a completely different level, somewhere we wouldn't be able to achieve if it wasn’t for that commitment and the leadership they provided with the others that followed them to make it possible.”

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As the NCAA Championships arrive, Young has been thinking about how to adequately describe how the Greenwood Tennis Center has affected the program.

“It’s hard to put into words how impactful it was for the players that were gonna come in to have the resources they needed to chase their dreams, be successful, to be able to practice every day no matter what the weather was,” Young said. “Now, we have a place that we can be proud of, that has locker rooms and some of the amenities that you can really take pride in.

“The bigger aspect of it is the tennis program can dream big. The tennis program can think in terms of being the best. You’ve got one of the best facilities in the country, then the team can dream the same. It inspires people into believing anything’s possible.”

The main outdoor court at the Greenwood Tennis Center holds Morris’ name, which seems fitting, since he’s the man who planted the seed in his daughter that led to the facility’s construction.

Morris got the chance to attend a few matches at the Greenwood Tennis Center, and his memorial service was held on that court when he passed away a couple years after it opened.

“He’s the inspiration, and he’s how Anne got started coming to matches,” Young said. “It was neat to be able to connect with him and see how passionate he was about the program, and then understand the reasons why Mike and Anne were so excited to do this project.”

Likewise, the Greenwoods are appreciative of Young’s guidance, along with that of Wadley in the early years, and current men’s coach Dustin Taylor.

“We had the ability to dream big, but we had to do it right,” Anne Greenwood said. “Coach Young helped us understand exactly what we needed to do to make it the best we could.

“Every step of the way, we’ve continued to dream big. Coach Young never stops thinking about, ‘How do we push to the next level?’ As such, you see the growth of OSU tennis, men and women.

“Overall, we’re going nowhere but up. It has evolved, but it has never stopped, and that’s what Coach Young has allowed.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma State tennis had big dreams to host NCAA Championships