The History of Purdue Men's Tennis
It was not until 1914 that the Old Gold and Black, led by head coach C. M. Jones, played its first dual matches, netting a 1-2 record against in-state rival Indiana University and eventual Big Ten Conference opponent Ohio State.
Longtime Boilermaker coach Larry LaBree, who took over the program in 1925, led Purdue in its first appearance at the Big Ten Conference Championships in 1934, when the team placed sixth along with Northwestern and Wisconsin.
LaBree continued to coach Purdue men's tennis until 1964, amassing a 152-212 record as Purdue's longest-standing head coach. During LaBree's tenure, the Old Gold and Black reached as high as third place in the conference championships and had a best record of 9-4.
Purdue alumnus, Ed Eicholz became Purdue's fifth men's tennis head coach in 1965 (-1979). Boilermaker standouts under Eicholz's tutelage included four-time team MVP Steve Plump who appeared at the 1975 NCAA Championships in singles and doubles with Fritz Ballantine (two-time MVP, 1977-1978). Plump was also the 1975 men's tennis Mackey Award recipient. Along with being the third two-time MVP, Jim Mansfield was named to the prestigious "Outstanding College Athlete of America" list in 1971.
The 1982 team recorded the most wins in school history with a tally of 23-11, defeating in-state foes Indiana State, Butler, Ball State, Notre Dame and Indiana, as well as regional rivals Ohio State and Michigan State. The '82 team had the first of four 20-win seasons in Boilermaker history (also 1984, 1986 and 1987).
Notable Boilermaker performers from the 1982 and 1984 seasons include Bro Ballantine, Adam Abele and Kevin Gregory.
Brother of Fritz, Bro Ballantine was also both named two-time MVP and served as team captain. Bro was the 1982 recipient of the Mackey Award. Current WRTV Indianapolis Channel 6 weatherman Kevin Gregory (1984-87) was an All-Big Ten honoree and team MVP in 1985 and 1986 as well as Academic All-Big Ten and Mackey Award nominee.
One of Purdue's most successful players and prolific winners, Adam Abele donned the Old Gold and Black from 1981 to 1984 and is Purdue's only four-time All-Big Ten and Big Ten singles champion. He received the Big Ten Medal of Honor and Mackey Award as a senior.
In 1994, when the first plans for the Schwartz Tennis Center were envisioned, Purdue tennis competed on courts near the center of campus that were they were beginning to outgrow. When inclement weather occurred, the Lafayette Sports Center served as an indoor facility, challenging because it was across town in Lafayette. The time came in 2005 to break ground for a facility that accomplished three things: a facility that rivaled the best in the Big Ten, to be community friendly and generate revenue to be self-sustaining.
This magnificent facility was made possible by Denny Schwartz, the primary benefactor who lent his name to honor his late wife, Mary Lou, an avid tennis player.
The Schwartz Tennis Center construction was completed in December of 2006 after little more than a year. This 60,000 square-foot facility is home to the Purdue men's and women's varsity tennis teams and boasts six indoor courts and 12 outdoor courts as well as locker rooms and lounges for both teams. Upon completion, only six outdoor courts were built. In the fall of 2010, six more courts were added on the south end with the assistance of Purdue's Recreational Sports Center, promoting the Schwartz Tennis Center as available and accessible to the public.
Madden twice led his squads to the NCAA round of 32 with victories over #49 Michigan (1998, 4-2) and MAC Champion Ball State (2002, 4-1). The highest ranking doubles team in Purdue history is Cris James and Derek Myers. The duo reached as high as No. 7 in March 1997 and qualified for the 1996 NCAA Doubles Championships as freshmen, reaching the round of 16. James had a career high No. 26 in singles ITA rankings and notched 93 singles win and 99 doubles wins after four year (four 20+ win seasons). Myers would eclipse him in doubles with the most in Old Gold and Black history at 119.
James played professionally on the ATP tour post-graduation and is currently the head men's tennis coach at Illinois State University. Jamie Gordon became first and only Boilermaker ever to reach 100 singles wins in 1999; he claims 101-win tally for four years.
Also in 1999, Jason Marshall (1998-2001) became the first Big Ten Singles Champion since Abele when he defeated Minnesota's Tom Chicoine 7-6, 6-1. Marshall repeated in 2001 becoming Purdue's only two-time Big Ten singles champion. He appeared at the NCAA Singles Championship in 2000 and fell in the second round in 2001 after defeating Kristopher Stahlberg of Mississippi 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Marshall amassed the most single-season dual-match singles wins in program history, 18, tops single-season solo wins with 30 and earned All-Big Ten acclaim three times. Marshall's highest ITA singles rank was No. 39.
The Dallas, Texas, native went on to play professionally, reaching as high as No. 146 in doubles internationally and winning events in ATP challenger tournaments in Forest Hills, N.Y.; Donetsk, Ukraine; and Austin, Texas.
The Boilermakers' achievements stretched past the courts during Madden's era. Swan was a two-time Academic All-American. Moreover, 65 Academic All-Big Ten nods were awarded to Madden's players to go with nine All-Big Ten playing honors.
In 1998, Laith Al-Agba joined the ranks of Purdue tennis. This initially shy, unassuming Bremerton, Wash., native soon turned into a team leader and outgoing ambassador of Boilermaker spirit. He went on to become a four-year letterwinner and three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. In May of 2007, the former Boilermaker was the fatal victim of a terrible accident.
Al-Agba's lasting impression of the program led to the establishment of the Laith Al-Agba Memorial Fund as well as the Laith Al-Agba Award. A commemorative gathering, the Laith Al-Agba Alumni Tennis Challenge, is played annually to allow former Purdue players to come together to share friendships and team unity, two of Laith's greatest gifts.
Al-Agba contributed to the most successful postseason of the program in 1999, when the Boilermakers claimed runner-up in the Big Ten and finished 17-8, including 7-3 in the conference.
P.J. Rose matched Marshall's single-season singles match record with 30 wins in 2010 and topped the doubles list with 29 single-season wins. Rose was a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and the 2010 Big Ten Sportsmanship Honoree. The Highland, Ill., native is also the only recipient ever of the Laith Al-Agba Award (2008, 2009 and 2010).
In August of 2009, Pawel Gajdzik became the ninth head coach of Purdue tennis. In Gajdzik's first year, Purdue finished 11-15 while laying the foundation for future success.