Building Advantage

by Micah McDaniel

Mark Bohren ’93, M.A. ’99, director of tennis, is more than a coach—he is an architect. Over the past two decades, he has built, reinforced, and shaped Azusa Pacific men’s tennis into a collegiate power.

His 21-year résumé reveals his consistency and expertise—more than 400 wins, an average of 20 wins per season; 19 consecutive national tournament appearances dating back to 1997; 9 conference championships, including 6 straight from 2002-07; 5 consecutive national championship match appearances from 2003-07; and three national championships. Bohren built the program with many different parts, using a mix of local talent as well as some international influence.

One country, however, has proven an undergirding structure in APU’s tennis program—Germany. It started with Holger Rudl in 1996, and in the 20 years since, 10 others have come through the German pipeline to Azusa Pacific. “Tennis is an international sport, so it made sense to start looking around the world,” said Bohren. “What’s important is that we find players who are a good fit for Azusa Pacific. As this process unfolded, I learned German tennis players are typically great at the sport and even better students. They’re highly motivated and quickly adapt to the school.”

Jan Meyer ’14 exemplifies that ideal match of student to institution. As the first Cougar ever ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II, he dominated the court, compiling a winning streak against NCAA Division II competition that lasted nearly 24 months until March 2016. In October 2015, he became the first Cougar to win the ITA/USTA National Small College Championship, claiming the only singles title in NCAA Division II tennis.

The two-time All-American has devoured his opponents with a grind-it-out style, limiting unforced errors, developing points, taking advantage of opportunities, and playing proficiently. “I’m a tall guy, so when people look at me, they expect me to be a big server, but that’s not the case,” said Meyer. “I just like to be solid, efficient, and use a variety of shots.”

Meyer translated that effectiveness to the classroom. Between transferring in a handful of units from his high school work in Germany, traditional semesters, summer work, online classes, and College Level Examination Program exams, Meyer squeezed four years of academic work into two, earning his bachelor’s degree after what should have been his sophomore year. “I wouldn’t consider myself to be highly intelligent, but I know what I am capable of, and once I learned I could actually finish it in two years, I went for it. I just wanted to use my time as best as possible. It’s also how I am on the court. I don’t like to waste time. I don’t even like to take naps.”

Finishing a bachelor’s degree in two years is a feat in and of itself. What makes it extraordinary in Meyer’s case is that English is his second language—while he came to the States with an understanding of it, he wasn’t comfortable speaking or writing it. “Aside from learning a new culture, the biggest struggle has been becoming fluent in English,” said Meyer. “But it’s also the biggest benefit. That is a huge advantage if I decide to go back to Germany. It will be nice to have that on my résumé.”

With a bachelor’s degree under his belt and two years of tennis eligibility remaining, Meyer continued his education and kept playing. As he works toward his MBA with an emphasis in finance, he continues rising to the top of the NCAA Division II tennis world. “I’ve been really blessed to be in a great tennis program and on some great teams,” said Meyer, who helped the Cougars win the NCCAA national championship his freshman year. “I am happy I chose APU. It helped that the tennis program had a lot of Germans before me. It also helped that APU has a long-standing reputation as an excellent school in a desirable location. I heard nothing but good things about the university, and that’s been my experience. This community is distinct, and it helped me adapt and get comfortable right from the beginning.”

“I’ve been a part of APU for 25 years, and what I’ve learned is that students come to APU because of how wonderful this school is, and as a result, they leave as better people,” said Bohren. “Jan is no exception. He is gifted. Academically, he’s a workhorse. He’s highly motivated and has improved each year. He has made our program better, and he’s made me a better coach. I’ve coached a lot of talented players over the years, but he’s up there among the best. He can do just about anything he wants to.”

Micah McDaniel ’99 is a digital and content marketer living in McKinney, Texas. micah.mcdaniel@gmail.com

Originally published in the Summer '16 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.