When talking about a team, it is normal to talk only about the players. They are the ones playing, after all. But the coaching staff is just as important to a program's success as the players, and in the case of the ASU women’s tennis team, that statement is as true as ever.
Head coach Sheila McInerney is, by title, the leader of the staff, but she doesn't see herself that way. According to McInerney, associate head coach Matt Langley acts more like a co-head coach than an assistant.
"I see us both as co-head coaches. He does a lot of the international recruiting that we have," McInerney said. "He's very good technically, he's very good strategically and he's a worker. He puts in a lot of time on the court with the girls."
Langley has been praised for his ability to work with the team throughout the locker room, from coaches and players alike. As a former player himself, Langley is able to hone the players' skills and let them "buy into the skill set that they have."
"As a player, I'm not the biggest in stature, so I had to be a little bit smarter and figure things out on the court," Langley said. "I think I'm good at that as a coach, just figuring out tactically what is good for one player and what isn't so good for another player and finding the best style for them."
Langley will come out early for practice, sometimes four hours early, to make sure the team gets enough individual work in. Every member of the team gets at least one or two individual sessions with Langley per week.
"He brings the energy,"Chelsea Fontenel, a freshman studying popular music, said. "He hits with us more than any coach I've ever met – just with that he pushes us to be our best selves on the tennis court."
When asked about the tandem of McInerney and Langley, Fontenel said, "They are better together for sure."
McInerney and Langley proved that they certainly are better together last year when they were awarded best head coach and assistant coach in the Southwest, respectively, by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Originally from Australia, Langley got his start in coaching at the same place he played at: Middle Tennessee State University. After his playing career, he went back home to Australia with his fiancee for a year, but ultimately decided to come back to Tennessee, where his fiancee is from.
"(It) just so happened that the women's assistant job was open, and (I) sort of fell into coaching initially," Langley said.
After two successful years at MTSU, Langley was able to get in touch with McInerney about the job at ASU and has been in Tempe for the past eight years.
Eight years is a long time for an assistant to be in one spot, especially for one as good as Langley. Being from Australia, Langley is used to the warm weather and sunshine, but those aren't the main factors that have kept him in Arizona for so long. He pointed to McInerney as a reason for him staying put.
"Sheila is really important, just her giving me a chance and an opportunity here," Langley said. "I'm not really the type of person who's always looking for the better deal or better situation. I owe a lot to her. She's done a lot of things for me, as a person and for my career, and that means a lot to me."
ASU is coming off of a sweep of the Los Angeles schools, USC and UCLA, this past weekend. With three games remaining, they still have work to do as the conference tournaments approach. But with the help of "co-head coaches" McInerney and Langley, the team is in great hands.
Edited by Kathryn Field, Reagan Priest and Caera Learmonth.