For Yaser Zaatini becoming the head coach at ETSU was a dream come true. Zaatini began his collegiate career at ETSU in 1990 and was the most-decorated Buccaneer in the history of the men’s tennis program.
Zaatini was the first individual from ETSU to compete in the NCAA Championships. In 1992, he was ranked No. 4 in the nation in the ITA rankings, the highest-ever for an ETSU Buccaneer. When Zaatini was awarded the head coaching job after the former coach, Dave Mullins, was promoted to Athletic Director, he saw it as an opportunity to give back.
“When a place is so close to your heart, and it’s a place that you feel gave you your first start it’s extremely important that in some way we feel like we give something back to our school,” Zaatini said. The passion that I have for our university is beyond words, and for them to give me this chance and to trust me with their program it just makes me the happiest camper.”
Zaatini has brought ETSU tennis a lot of success in recent years in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He has led the men’s team to six-straight conference championships. He also led the women’s team to its third championship last year.
”I felt like I did my part as a player, and now I want to be able to give the players the same satisfaction that my boss gave me,” he said. “He was my coach and at the same time he was my mentor and my friend. He’s basically my hero. When you have all of those things put together you want to be some of that to the kids that you bring in.”
Even after his own successful collegiate tennis career and leading ETSU to the top of the A-Sun year-in and year-out he said that one of the greatest obstacles he faces is trying to convince players to play for him at ETSU.
“The biggest challenge is trying to convince people to come to this area,” he said. “They think that just because our name [ETSU] is not a household name then we’re not deserving of a chance. I just tell them to look at the results and from there just understand that we are every bit as important as anybody else.”
Zaatini explains that the ETSU tennis program is drastically underestimated many times.
“Not giving us a chance, it’s a big loss to those people,” he said.
Regardless of whether or not he can convince the top players in the country to come to ETSU each year, Zaatini has picked up some extremely talented players over the years including former Buc and ITA All-American Enrique Olivares. Olivares finished his career second in ETSU’s record books with 118 wins, finishing just behind Zaatini’s 134.
This season the Bucs had their ups and downs. After losing eight straight matches, ETSU hit a wall and started to turn things around. The Bucs went on a 14-match win streak that led them all the way to the conference championship with a defeat of No. 2 North Florida, 4-1, in the championship final.
“North Florida was ranked above us all year and they have what I think is a better team than us on paper,” he said. “I mean they are solid, they’ve had some great wins, but our guys never give up. They just work hard and we hit rock bottom and only then were we able to discover how good we are.”
With the conference championship behind them the Bucs have set their sights on the NCAA Tournament, last year ETSU fell to Notre Dame 4-3 in the first round; however the Bucs defeated the Fighting Irish in 2008 but fell to Ohio State in the second round.