By Kristen Spillane
Intensity, drive, and commitment to the best: being the best and bringing out the best in her players.
Coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews settles for nothing less.
Since taking the helm as head coach of the University of Miami women’s tennis team in 2001, Yaroshuk-Tews has never veered off a steady course of success.
In each of her 11 seasons, Yaroshuk-Tews has coached the Hurricanes to at least the second round of the NCAA tournament.
She likes consistency.
Yaroshuk-Tews and her squad have competed in seven consecutive “Sweet 16” and four “Elite Eight” matches. From the get-go, in just her second season as head coach, Yaroshuk-Tews was two-for-two in second round NCAA appearances. In six of her last seven seasons, the women’s tennis team has reached the NCAA quarterfinals. In 2006, under her leadership, the team made its first NCAA finals appearance since 1985.
Still not convinced that Yaroshuk-Tews should be a synonym for success?
The Hurricanes have hosted an NCAA Regional match eight years in a row, finished in the ITA Top 15 nine consecutive times and have earned five Top 10 ITA placements in the last six seasons.
But what makes Yaroshuk-Tews so good as a coach are her experiences, as a player and a person.
A Miami native and Killian High School graduate, Yaroshuk-Tews was raised a Cane. Her father Ernie Yaroshuk is a UM Hall of Fame second baseman/right fielder who still holds the third highest batting average (.448) in UM's single season history. Ernie and Carol Yaroshuk immersed both of their children in sports at a young age. Yaroshuk fondly recalled his daughter following her older brother’s every move.
“Paige would do everything her brother did, who is three years older. If it was baseball, she’d be right after him, off to baseball,” recalled Yaroshuk.
For the Yaroshuk family, sports were more than an activity.
“Sports was kind of what we did, what we watched, where we spent our spare time,” reminisced Yaroshuk-Tews, “A lot of my childhood revolved around the University of Miami, going to the football games, and the baseball games, and the tennis matches, its just kind of what we did.”
“My wife and I felt that sports were important to the entitlement and responsibility of being a good citizen and a good person,” said Yaroshuk, “Life is competitive, sports are a good way of training for it, knowing what competitiveness is and how to deal with it.”
While she began as a multi-sport athlete, Yaroshuk-Tews eventually honed in on tennis. And on a family trip to California, she found her dream school, and her launch pad for a tennis career.
“I’ll never forget this,” said Yaroshuk, “Paige was about 12 or 13 years old when she stood on top of the seating at the UCLA tennis facility and said to us, ‘Mom and Dad, this is where I want to go to school, this is where I want to play tennis.’”
But before she could make that dream a reality, Yaroshuk-Tews learned one of the most important lessons out there.
“I supported her dream, but also made clear, that she had a lot to understand, Paige needed good grades in school and she needed to be very good at what she was doing,” said Yaroshuk, “I think she got a pretty good hold on what life is all about.”
A four-year letter-winner at UCLA, then ranked No. 4 in the nation, Yaroshuk-Tews was a two-time NCAA All-American in both singles and doubles play, attaining national rankings as high as No. 13 in singles and No. 1 in doubles with partner Keri Phebus.
“She was as fiery as any student athlete I’d ever seen in my entire career at UCLA,” said retired UCLA tennis coach Bill Zaima, “If you were to go to battle, you want Paige on your team.”
Yaroshuk-Tews spent five years playing for Zaima. An arm and wrist injury after her freshman season redshirted Yaroshuk-Tews and changed her technique completely, from a western forehand to a more traditional eastern version. A change, which Zaima said, saved her career.
“Paige always wanted the best out of her teammates, of her coaches, and of herself even when the best took its toll on her body,” said Zaima, “Tennis is difficult in college, difficult on the joints, neck, knees…even though it’s not a contact sport, it’s very hard on the body yet Paige found a way to play through it.”
From Pac-10 championships, a spot on the 1996 Rolex/ITA Collegiate All-Star team, the role of team captain and the title of Most Valuable Player, Yaroshuk-Tews made a clean sweep of accolades both on and off the court. The 1996 graduate departed from her alma mater with UCLA’s “Champs Award” given to the school’s most inspirational female athlete, Pac-10 academic honors, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
Over her four years at UCLA, Yaroshuk-Tews wholly embodied her role as a student-athlete, balancing a rigorous course load at a nationally recognized, elite university.
“I think it’s no different than what a lot of these girls have to do, usually when you excel in one you typically excel in the other,” said Yaroshuk-Tews, “The reason I chose UCLA was because it was so strong academically and athletically. I wanted it all, that was the reason I chose that school, and it just takes a lot of time management, that’s the most important thing.”
As a coach, she holds the same standards of excellence for her own players.
“I don’t necessarily have to stress it so much because they’re such great students, and they hold the bar really high for themselves. And of course there are the ones that come along where maybe tennis comes first and academics come second. That’s really few and far between and you just try to stress to them that 10 years down the road, tennis most likely isn’t going to be paying the bills, and that in today’s day and age, you’re most likely going to have to get a masters, get another degree. So what they’re doing now is setting themselves up for the future,” said Yaroshuk-Tews.
“Academics is number one, every one of them will tell you the same thing. If they need to miss a practice to meet with a professor, no questions asked, academics is number one. I think it helps them on the court to have that focus.”
In her playing days at UCLA and her brief stint playing professionally, her ambition, focus and drive separated her from the rest.
“She has a fiery personality and was born a leader,” said Yaroshuk of his daughter, “That fire on the court came from beyond her will to win, it came from her passion. In tennis, in life, she knows what it means to work and work for something, to want something so badly.”
And today, Yaroshuk-Tews embodies those same qualities first and foremost as a coach, but also as a mentor, a teacher, a friend, and even a mother to her players. That is, when she isn’t busy being “Mom” to her two children, Emma, 7, and Landon, 4.
“We joke all the time, you have so many different roles, sometimes you’re a mom, sometimes you’re a big sister, sometimes you’re a coach, sometimes you’re a therapist, more times than not you’re a therapist,” laughed Yaroshuk-Tews. “I’m constantly playing different roles.”
Famous among her players for her tough love persona, it’s no coincidence that some of her most successful players from seasons past still feel a strong connection to the coach that helped them to develop into greatness.
“She definitely is a mentor,” said Scott Tews, the second half of Yaroshuk-Tews’ hyphenated name since January 10, 2004. “The neat part of watching the kids that come to this program is they grow as people and when they come out they’re better people for what they’ve done and how they’ve gone through the program and the whole college experience.”
“She’s a very tough coach, at the same time she’s very sensitive to your emotions and what you’re feeling. You might not feel that way when you’re her player but she always has a reason as to why she does things,” said Laura Vallverdu, volunteer graduate assistant coach for the women’s tennis team and former All-American player at UM.
“She and I had a special relationship, as you can see, I’m here still. She helped me get my masters, she helped me with a scholarship…we just have a great relationship. I think it’s because I was able to see…that that toughness is actually just tough love. Some players get defensive, they don’t really take it as help. With me, she and I built that from the beginning,” said Vallverdu.
Former player Vallverdu and current freshman Clementina Riobueno spoke of their coach and her plethora of roles and responsibilities with almost identical sentiments.
“On the court, it’s tough, she’s tough for sure. But I mean, I like it, I need that. I need someone to push me on the court so I can train hard,” said Riobueno. “Outside the court, it’s nice. I mean, inside the court it’s nice too, but she’s doing her work. Outside the court, she can be my mother, my friend, my aunt; she’s taking care of us.”
Yaroshuk-Tews took those experiences and lessons she learned herself as a player and continues to embody them as a coach.
“I had great relationships with my coaches at school. I caused them a lot of headaches, and they caused me some headaches too, but at the end of the day, I probably wouldn’t be coaching if it wasn’t for my experience with them at UCLA,” said Yaroshuk-Tews.
When Yaroshuk-Tews was inducted into the Miami Hall of Fame in 2012, she simply left a note for her former coach Zaima.
“I had grown so close to Paige her parents over those five years, we developed a deep mutual respect, I knew I had to be there, she had already accomplished so much at UM,” said Zaima.
“The fact that she was able to keep coming back from injury was just so inspiring. I watched her grow from someone who thought she would make it to someone who did make it,” said Zaima, “And as a coach, she has taken UM from good to great.”
Following her own adages, Yaroshuk-Tews dedicates herself one hundred percent to her team, day in and day out.
“Her thing that she always says is ‘Give me 100 percent when you’re out here’” explained Vallverdu, “She says, ‘If you have 60 today, that’s all I want. Don’t have 80 and give me 60, that means you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.’”
Beyond the courts, Yaroshuk-Tews places incredible emphasis on the importance of giving back to the community and fostering development in youth. When asked about her brief professional career, the coach expressed the importance of returning the favor to the world of tennis that had already given her so much.
“It was a wonderful experience, but I personally didn’t like living out of the bag, the lifestyle. To me it was a very selfish kind of existence, and I know I lot of people like it, it’s not disrespecting that lifestyle, but I wanted to give back. I wanted to help kids develop, so that’s why I made the decision to not stay out there very long, and I wanted to get going when I was relatively young in this business.”
Before coming to UM, Yaroshuk-Tews worked as a traveling coach with the top U.S. junior players based at the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Player Development Headquarters in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Just a few weeks ago, Yaroshuk-Tews and her team spoke to Doral Middle School students and demonstrated the team value of community involvement, passed down from the head coach.
“I think its good for these kids to get out in the community, and see that kids are dealing with adversity every day…Some of the adversity that we deal with, when you put in the big picture, it’s pretty silly. We, the kids, get so focused on winning and losing,” said Yaroshuk-Tews.
Yaroshuk-Tews proves she is a coach to the core, on and off the courts.
As a college player, Yaroshuk-Tews had a certain air of confidence.
“We were at an indoor tournament in Wisconsin, where Donna Shalala was the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison,” recalled Zaima, “when I encouraged Paige to approach and thank her, she thought nothing of starting that converstation. Little did she know, maybe 10 years down the road, that same woman would be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and even further down the road, her boss.”
It’s that level of confidence that Yaroshuk-Tews tries to instill in her own players with opportunities like a visit to Doral Middle School.
“I think it’s good for their self-confidence to get them out and get them speaking in front of big groups, to get them believing in a message and giving the message…I think its also good for the kids we spoke to see what type of discipline and what type of sacrifices you need to make to get to this level, so I think it helped both sides.”
In her 12th season as UM’s head coach, Yaroshuk-Tews continues to build upon the basic foundations she learned as a young player as her team flourishes from inexperienced freshmen, to confident and capable young women.
“She’s a very simple coach, a very meat and potatoes kind of coach,” said Vallverdu. “She tells you how it is, she expects you to bring it to the table, bring what’s expected- your work, your good attitude and your passion. And after all that, she is a good motivational coach.”Through years of dedication to the sport and her uncontested respect for the people who bring the game to life, Yaroshuk-Tews has established a reputation that spans the country. And all along the way, she maintains commitment to the best in her self, her sport and her team.