Everything begins with roots. From our birthplace to the people who shape our lives, our roots form our core.
When the No. 22 Michigan men’s tennis team opens conference play this weekend at Northwestern, two Wolverines will revisit their roots. For first-year assistant coach Sean Maymi, it will be his first return. For senior Ryan Heller, his final stroke.
Maymi will reunite with Northwestern coach Paul Torricelli at the Combe Indoor Tennis Courts. He coached three current Wildcats – seniors Matt Christian, Willy Lock and Christian Tempke while serving as Torricelli’s volunteer assistant coach two years ago.
But more importantly, Maymi found his inspiration to coach college tennis in Evanston.
“Paul Torricelli has been awesome,” Maymi said. “He’s really kind of the reason why I’m here. Coach Torricelli did a good job of helping me realize that’s what I wanted to put my focus in and do.”
Torricelli could be considered the godfather of tennis coaches. As Torricelli’s former pupils took over at DePaul, Fresno State and 2006 NCAA Champion Pepperdine, Maymi hopes to follow in their footsteps as a head coach.
Coaching for Maymi has been a long road. From helping tennis pro Michael Russell of the Association of Tennis Players to public tennis lessons in a Chicago tennis club, he searched for the balance he has since found in the college game.
“Being (at Northwestern) and realizing the level, it made me know where I fit,” Maymi said. “Being able to relate to the guys and educate them on more than just tennis, you’re able to get guys in here, teach them discipline and a lot of different things on the way. “
Discipline seems to be the main difference between the programs at Michigan and Northwestern. While the Wildcats take a more laid back approach during practice, the Wolverines have a rigid agenda.
But senior captain Ryan Heller doesn’t seem to mind.
Enjoying the final moments of his tennis career, Heller will play the Wildcats just 30 minutes from his hometown. After winning his last seven matches, Heller is confident he will impress the “away” crowd.
“Being my last year, it’s definitely good to go home,” Heller said. “It’s good to play there in front of family and friends. My grandparents will be there and they can’t really come up and watch too many matches at Michigan.”
Heller has had a great tennis career. At Glenbrook North High School (Ill.), Heller reached the IHSA state finals twice, winning the championship once. He continued his success internationally, capturing the gold model at the 2005 Maccabiah Games with fellow Wolverine Steve Peretz. But as a team player, he says his greatest accomplishment is helping Michigan get to the NCAA Tournament.
With a career in banking ahead for Heller, he will always be a proud Wolverine.
“You look at it, and you see how things have progressed even when you’re not there, and you know that you’ve made a contribution to the program,” Heller said. “Leaving with that, leaving even with the success to come, you look at yourself and smile, I helped build this.”
But for now, the future or a reunion isn’t on anybody’s mind.
Sights are set on the Big Ten Championship. After losing a tight battle to No. 3 Virginia last weekend, this weekend’s dual match will determine if Michigan has what it takes.
“We’ve definitely tried to forget the match at Virginia,” Heller said. “Obviously, it’s a big deal, and we showed we were right there with them. But now it’s time to forget and look forward to Northwestern.”
A win at Northwestern could provide the roots for a Michigan run at the Big Ten championship. But the Wolverines have bigger ideas.
“If we could win the Big Ten,” Maymi said, “we could obviously win the national championship.”