Sept. 29, 2011
By Craig Chval
When Kelcy Tefft returned to Notre Dame for a football game last October, she was not cheering for the school where she was a tennis standout two years prior.
“I wore gray. I wasn’t going to go either direction because my boss was from Tulsa,” says Tefft. “Everyone from Tulsa was basically here, so it was one where I was in a gray sweater – not going in either direction.”
At the time, the 2009 Irish alumna was an assistant tennis coach for the University of Tulsa and the impartial witness to a 28-27 victory for the Golden Hurricanes. Since August 2011, however, her loyalties have returned completely to her alma mater.
Head coach Jay Louderback hired Tefft as the new assistant coach this summer, bringing back the two-time All-American who played under him from 2005-09.
“I was hoping we could get someone who had played here because they’ve been through the program here — they know what’s going on. And with Kelcy she was not only a good player, but just a great teammate and so knowledgeable about tennis that when I first heard she might be interested, I was very excited,” recalls Louderback. “She had done such a good job here. She was pretty much an assistant coach her senior year. She was so good on the court and off her senior year as our captain, and for us it was a perfect fit.”
Tefft started her new job after classes began, coming back to the team for which she holds the career records for combined wins (265), combined dual match wins (180), doubles wins (155) and doubles dual match wins (99).
Ultimately, the decision to return to Notre Dame under her former coach trumped the allure of remaining in her home state.
“I was recruiting for Tulsa, and Jay gave me a call, and I thought about it for about a week because I’m from Oklahoma — close to home, you know,” says Tefft. “It’s such an ideal position with a great athletics department. Jay’s great — I’m excited to be able to learn from him as a coach rather than a player. He always brings in great players that are just really good people.”
Not only has Tefft returned to the campus and coach she played for, but she also found a couple other familiar faces when she came back to Notre Dame.
Only two years removed from her playing days, Tefft returns to coach two current players, seniors Kristy Frilling and Shannon Mathews, who have switched from playing with Tefft three years ago to playing under her now.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t kind of weird because there’s obviously a new boundary when she becomes your coach instead of your teammate,” says Frilling. “I can’t just hang out with her and talk with her about whatever as much as I used to. It’s nice because she’s still a really good friend, but now I can look up to her more, and she can really teach me more about my game as a coach rather than a player.”
Even before they were player and coach, Frilling was learning from Tefft who served as team captain during the 2008-09 season. During that season, the duo comprised a doubles team perennially ranked among the best in the nation, including a No. 1 spot at one point.
“Playing with Kelcy my freshman year was awesome because I really looked up to her as a player. She had been around for four years and she was very mature and she had a ton of experience,” says Frilling. “She really taught me a lot about my game and kind of helped me get adjusted to college tennis, so she was a great partner to have freshman year.”
In helping her teammates, Tefft displayed her understanding of the importance of a positive team dynamic and great chemistry. The camaraderie on Notre Dame’s team helped draw her to the University in the first place when she was a recruit.
“Jay recruits really good girls — good people. And it was the only school that I went to that I really liked all the girls on the team, and you spend so much time with them,” Tefft says. “So that was pretty much what made me decide, like 100 percent, was just the atmosphere on the team and the girls on the team.”
After her four years at Notre Dame, Tefft’s job at Tulsa enabled her to experience other environments, programs and methods. She worked with a team that had more international students, learning to communicate with different types of players.
When Tefft returned to her alma mater after that two-year stint, she brought with her those new experiences along with a familiarity with Notre Dame to share with the players.
“I know what they’ve been through and are going through. It’s definitely a process; each year that you are here, you learn more.” says Tefft. “More than anything, I can help them because just having an understanding of what they are going through because I have been through some of the same things is going to help me be effective. I can say to them `I’ve been there, I’ve done that’.”
Even though Tefft has quickly transitioned into her new job, she says Louderback and the players have made the transition as smooth as possible.
“It’s a really unique group of girls in that they all just work so hard and are just very good people,” remarks Tefft. “They are nice to each other and really work well together. They’ve made it really easy thus far.
“I know there’s going to be challenges, but it’s a really, really good group of girls. And I look forward to being their assistant for many years.”
If Tefft’s hope is fulfilled, it may be a long time before she has to cheer in Notre Dame Stadium in anything but blue and gold again.
— ND —