Saluki senior returns as coach

By Thomas Donley

This summer the SIU men’s tennis coaching staff experienced addition by subtraction from its roster.

Rafael Cuadrillero’s 6-2, 6-2 loss to Wichita State University in the Missouri Valley Conference Championship semifinals on April 26 ended his career as a college tennis player, but it did not mark the end of his time with the Saluki tennis team.

Cuadrillero’s NCAA eligibility expired after last spring, but he still had classes to complete for his civil engineering degree, so head coach Dann Nelson brought him back to roam the sidelines of University Courts as a student assistant for the 2014-2015 season.


Because the Salukis return only three players from last year, it was important for Nelson to keep as many experienced minds around the team as he could to ease any growing pains for new players.

Cuadrillero played for the Salukis for four years and will use his experience to help guide this year’s young roster. He said he hopes to teach the younger players on the roster not only how to take advantage of opponents on the court, but also how to properly manage their time as college athletes.

“We have six freshmen, so it’s imperative for us to have as many people as possible for those guys to go to if they have a question about something,” Nelson said.

Cuadrillero’s quick transition from player to coach means he now coaches players who were his teammates just a few months ago. Senior Szymon Opieczonek, junior Jonny Rigby and sophomore Michal Kianicka have all played alongside Cuadrillero as Salukis, and will now take instruction from him.

Because Cuadrillero, affectionately known as “Rafa,” has been part of the team his former teammates said it will not be difficult to adjust to having a former teammate on the sideline.

“He’s one of my best friends and my roommate as well,” Opiezconek said. “I see him every day, and we still practice together. He’s one of us.”

Cuadrillero, who was the only senior for the 2013-2014 Salukis, brings intelligence to the coaching staff along with his playing experience. He was named to the MVC Scholar-Athlete team three times, twice making the first team. He was also named to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Scholar-Athlete Team in 2013.

Once the dual-match season starts in the spring, SIU play at least three freshmen in every match. Cuadrillero said he hopes to help the Salukis improve upon their semifinal exit in the MVC tournament last spring. SIU fell to Wichita State to end the spring with a record of 10-11.

“I probably know most of the players they’ll play against,” Cuadrillero said. “So I’ll be helpful with that.”

A native of Madrid, Spain, Cuadrillero totaled 22 singles wins in his Saluki career, including a career-high seven in his senior year. He said he has been impressed with the crop of freshmen Nelson recruited for the 2014-2015 season.

“We haven’t gotten the chance to compete much because we’re in the offseason,” Cuadrillero said. “But just by being with them I know they’re a great group.”