Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
If there were tennis players on the moon, coach Paul Kostin said he’d find them. That’s because he’s gone everywhere else in the world to recruit during his 38-year coaching career.
Kostin is in his 30th season in Richmond, building men’s and women’s teams that have won 29 conference titles with 38 appearances in NCAA tournaments. Kostin led the men’s team to the national championship match in 2000, falling to Stanford.
For the native of Sweden, it’s about building a program that’s consistent each year.
“I feel nobody’s going to remember you five or six years after you’ve done something else,” Kostin said. “But I think they will remember you more if you’re consistent and doing a good job year in and year out.”
Kostin, who’s led the women’s program for 19 seasons, has built his program with hardworking players. Even though the players may not be the highest rated during recruitment, Kostin looks for potential.
“I take those secondhand kids or third hands and just work at it and see what happens,” Kostin said. “Even when we were top 25, it wasn’t that I had high-notch kids, they worked hard.”
Kostin has recruited globally over the years, searching for the players who fit his program. He’s used his connections from his playing days in Europe and former players he coached who are now coaches all over the world.
As social media began to grow 10 years ago, Kostin said international recruiting became tougher. Now, players can see all their options on social media, especially the bigger programs.
“It was a good advantage, but now with social media, everybody’s around there [Europe],” Kostin said. “So, it’s much tougher competition. I think it’s tougher for a lot of mid-major schools than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”
Coaching at a mid-major school, which is any program not in a Power Five conference, Kostin said one disadvantage in recruiting against the bigger programs is facilities. VCU’s tennis facility doesn’t compare to what the dominant programs in the SEC and other conferences have.
Kostin was able to recruit good players in the past who probably wouldn’t have joined if they knew there were better opportunities elsewhere, he said.
“I’m dealing with kids who are mainly country club kids,” Kostin said. “It’s not easy, especially if you don’t have great facilities, to kind of lure them here. It’s reality. I’d love to have some of them, I get whatever I can.”
When he first started coaching, Kostin recruited in Sweden and found success there because players were comfortable playing for a Swedish coach. Now, he said he doesn’t have any preferences in where he recruits, as long as the players have the test scores and want a degree.
This season, all seven players on the women’s team hail from other countries, including Romania, Spain, Russia, the Netherlands and Japan.
Kostin’s goal is not only to help his student-athletes grow as tennis players, but also as people off the court. He wants them to have successful careers.
“All my players became something good besides tennis,” Kostin said. “I have a guy who’s an actor, a couple of kids who are CEOs in companies, they’re spread out all over the world. I feel good about that.”
Boris Kodjoe, who played at VCU from 1992-1996, is an actor, appearing on many shows and movies including the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff, “Station 19.” He was an elite player for Kostin, ranking ninth in the record book in all-time career singles wins with 75.
Despite winning the A-10 women’s title seven out of the last eight years, Kostin believes that the past doesn’t guarantee a future win. He has to approach each year the same.
“I don’t believe in what you’ve done,” Kostin said. “So you have to start from scratch every year.”