By Ashley Francis
Lehman’s new assistant tennis coach, Gene Nakagaki, has come a long way since his senior year at Eastchester High School when he was unsure where tennis would take him. Then his high school coach, Tim Otoshi, encouraged Nakagaki, whose newfound interest in the sport turned it into a beloved vocation. In high school, Nakagaki recalled, “I was just fooling around on the court.” When he came to Lehman, he became a star on the court leading the Lightning all four years he attended, graduating in 2016. This year, Lehman’s tennis coach Ana Belzunce saw a spot for him on her staff.
Now the newly acquired coach has to adjust to his new role. He admitted that he misses playing on the court. “I’m not used cheering them on,” he said of not being on field with teammates. However, on the field as a coach, Nakagaki presents himself with knowledge and carries himself beyond his years.
Lehman’s head tennis coach, and former tennis player at the University of Maryland, Ana Belzunce was the person who ultimately led Nakagaki to return to Lehman. He explained how she invited him back last season to volunteer as an assistant coach for a dominating the women’s tennis team. The 2016 season was also Belzunce’s first season coaching the Lightning, and this experience inspired her to ask him to join her staff in 2017. The position is an opportunity for him to help the players and transfer his skill set to use on their behalf so the team will develop after not having an assistant coach last season.
For the players, it hasn’t been difficult to get used their new coach. Senior Adrian Grant appreciates Nakagaki’s presence on the court and doesn’t feel intimidated by his former teammate. “The same passion he played with as a teammate, he also carries as a coach,” Grant said, emphasizing how Nakagaki carried the same intensity into new role. Communication has been a plus with him because he makes sure the players remain involved by breaking down plays to win against the opposition.
As the team played Albertus Magnus on April 9, Nakagaki showed players how to fix their posture while preparing to battle. He even knows when to joke around with the team because he still has a close relationship with them as a former player.
In Nakagaki’s first season, he hopes to work on giving his players more advice. Things have been somewhat of a challenge coming in because he is not playing, but now leading from the bench. Coach Belzunce, however, believes in him. “He’s been great this season,” she affirmed, “and brings a lot of energy.”