John Severance embarks on his eighth season as head coach of the University of Houston tennis team and his 11th season with the program after spending three seasons as an assistant coach.
Severance became the all-time winningest coach in UH tennis history during the 2010 season and notched his 100th career victory in front of the home crowd against Texas State on Feb. 12, 2011.
Severance also ranks second in program history with a winning percentage of .669 (111-55) behind Mary Nyholm's .719 (41-16) record.
Severance led Houston to its ninth-straight winning season overall and the seventh consecutive under his tutelage during the 2011 season, posting a 16-8 mark, which tied for the 10th-most wins in a single season in program history.
The Cougars endured several injuries during the first portion of the 2011 season before reeling off nine victories in the last 10 matches to wrap up the regular season.
Despite a young team that featured five underclassmen, all six starters in the singles lineup notched at least 10 victories en route to a 93-42 (.689) record in singles action, which was an increase of 32 wins from the previous season.
Not only did the Cougars excel on the court during the 2010-11 campaign, they also led all sports at UH with a 3.26 grade-point average during the fall semester. Freshman Celia Fraser marked the lone UH student-athlete to achieve a perfect 4.0 GPA during her first collegiate semester.
"I expect every player in our program to graduate with over a 3.0 GPA," said Severance. "That's a tradition we've set since I've been here. Academics is very important to our team, and obviously it shows."
Houston went 11-8 in 2010 and fell to East Carolina in the opening round of the Conference USA Championship. Despite losing the top-four performers from the previous season, who compiled a 57-16 singles mark, Severance turned in his sixth-consecutive winning season at UH.
Bryony Hunter led the squad as a freshman with 13 singles wins en route to Third-Team Conference USA honors. Hunter became the eighth player to garner C-USA All-Conference honors under Severance, and marked the sixth-straight year that at least one Cougar has received league accolades.
UH went 18-4 in 2009 and had its season come to an end against No. 64 Rice in the C-USA Championship quarterfinals. The Cougars posted the highest winning percentage (.818) since 1990 and the second-highest percentage in the 33-year history of the program.
Under Severance's tutelage, Joanna Kacprzyk was selected Third Team All-Conference USA. The Warsaw, Poland native put together a 14-6 record in singles action which saw her play a majority of her matches at the top of the Cougar line-up. In addition to her abilities as a singles player, Kacprzyk joined teammate Lynley Wasson to form the Cougars' most consistent doubles tandem, posting a 13-6 record.
In addition to the success that the Cougars enjoyed on the court, their academic excellence was also a reason for recognition as the women's tennis program held the highest GPA across all sports for the second year in a row. Eight players (Lucy Forward, Joanna Kacprzyk, Jordan McCombs, Laura Ring, Vicky Simpson, Neila Starratt, Lynley Wasson and Alix Young) were named to the Conference USA Dean's List. In addition, Wasson was named to the First Team C-USA All-Academic Team during her senior campaign. Entering the season, the team's goal was to maintain a 3.5 GPA in the fall and a 3.25 GPA in the spring. The athletes exceeded these goals with a 3.53 GPA in the fall and a 3.34 GPA in the spring.
In 2008, Severance finished the season with his fourth consecutive winning record completing the season with a record of 16-11.
The Cougars knocked off a ranked opponent, defeating No. 38 Louisville, 4-3, on March 22, 2008. Houston also won nine of their 12 home games.
Under Severance's guidance, departing senior, Leila Salek, won 18 of 24 singles matches, earning her spot on the 2007-08 All-Conference USA Second Team.
"Our philosophy is simple. We want to recruit good kids and develop them in the classroom and on the court. If an athlete is wanting to improve her tennis game, and is willing to work hard, Houston is the place for her. We not only develop these players on the court, we also train these girls with tennis specific weights, and a conditioning program (ACT), Advanced Circuit Training," Severance said.
In the 2006-07 season, Houston went 13-9, as Severance marked a milestone of 50 wins in just his first three seasons, the fastest of any Cougars' women's tennis coach. The Cougars, under Severance, produced five All-Conference honorees and the 2007 C-USA Newcomer of the Year.
Since his arrival at Houston, the Cougars have climbed from a seventh-place finish in his first year as an assistant coach, to four top-five C-USA finishes in the last seven seasons. Houston's success on the courts brought the program its highest ITA national ranking since 2001, as the Cougars were ranked as high as No. 67 in 2006.
Prior to Severance's arrival, the Cougars had not finished with a winning record since 1998. Houston has finished above the .500 mark every season under Severance, including two of the three highest winning percentages in the program's 33-year history.
Over that time, Severance has helped coach eight All-Conference players, including 2002 C-USA Player of the Year and 2006 Wimbledon Second Rounder Sarah Borwell, two-time C-USA pick Kami Miller and 2007 C-USA Newcomer of the Year Leila Salek.
The transition into coaching at the collegiate level has been an easy one for Severance, who is a natural with teaching mechanics, strategy and point development. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and raised in Phoenix, Ariz., Severance joined the program in 2001 after working at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club in Tucson, Ariz. He is a certified member of the United States Professional Tennis Association and has been given the elite rating of Professional I.
Prior to his appointment at Houston, Severance worked with the juniors in the excellence program at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club and in his spare time helped coach the Saint Gregory College Prep boys and girls' tennis teams. In 2001, he helped the boys' team to a regional title and assisted the girls' team in winning the state championship.
"Being a former student-athlete, I'm trying to give my players the knowledge that I have gained since playing," Severance said. "Looking at tennis from a coach's perspective, you realize how important it is to work hard off the court in addition to putting in quality work when you are on the court. It doesn't just take a good player to win. It takes an all-around athlete.
"You can see it in the world's best players," Severance continued. "They are not at the top of their games because they change the way they play. They are the greatest because they have increased their strength and conditioning in addition to their tennis talent."
As a player, Severance enjoyed a successful career at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He was one of the top players in the lineup during the 1997-98 season for the Lions. Preceding his play at CU-Colorado Springs, Severance played at Mesa Community College (1995-97). That same year he also helped his team to a No. 10 national ranking at the national tournament in Corpus Christi, Texas. In 1999, he finished his studies at the University of Arizona and graduated with a bachelor of arts in sociology.
Severance began playing tennis after watching The French Open in 1983. That afternoon he grabbed his father's wooden racket and several old balls, walked across the street to the tennis court and went on to teach himself how to play. He knows what it took to get himself where he is and has high hopes for his players.