Larry Peterson, a 1990 DePauw University graduate, never had plans of becoming a head coach.
He graduated with a degree in economics, and then he went to Texas A&M University for his master’s in 1991.
Soon after, Peterson traveled overseas to the Czech Republic to teach English and economics. He furthered his education at Ohio University in 2000, graduating with a master’s degree in photo-communications.
It wasn’t until a State College high school tennis coach offered him a job as an assistant coach that he realized coaching tennis was his passion.
“I took that opportunity to help him out, and ever since then I’ve never really looked back,” said Peterson, now the IUP women’s tennis coach.
From the moment he was hired in 2008, Peterson knew IUP was where he wanted to be. He wanted to turn the program around, challenge it and “build it from the ground up.” He was ready to take all that he had learned at his previous coaching stops as an assistant and transform it into something of his own, creating even better opportunities for his own college athletes and the future of the women’s tennis program at IUP.
“I thought the position at IUP was very interesting to me,” Peterson said, “because just the idea of starting from the ground up, building the program, was a challenge that I thought sounded really cool.”
Prior to IUP, Peterson worked at Bucknell University, where he was an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s tennis teams until 2006. Two years later, he accepted his current position at IUP and has been stabilizing the women’s tennis program ever since.
He has guided the team to six straight NCAA Division II Championship appearances and six Atlantic Regional tournaments.
“Fortunately for me, for the girls in the program and for IUP, we’ve been lucky enough to develop a program that’s done quite well,” he said.
For the past four years, because of their success, IUP has been able to host the first few rounds of the Atlantic Regional tournament. They’ve earned the right to host by having one of the best regular season records and regional rankings.
Since Peterson’s second year as head coach, the IUP women’s tennis team has been able to qualify every year for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament and have advanced to championship matches.
Even with IUP’s domination in the conference and region, California University of Pennsylvania has always seemed to be a road block, as the Vulcans have won 10 straight PSAC championships.
“We’ve had a team in our conference who’s been a hurdle that we haven’t been able to get over yet,” Peterson said. “We’ve had a couple of incredibly close games with them. Although we were making the finals, we weren’t ready for Cal yet.
“We have, however, closed that gap and are hopeful that this is the year that we become the strongest team in the PSAC and the Atlantic Region.”
Peterson believes that it doesn’t matter whether his player wins or loses a match; instead, it matters if they perform up to their own potential.
When asked about what his goals were for the upcoming season, Peterson said it’s about allowing the team to reach their full potential and continue to always improve.
“If we can do that as not only individuals but as a team, I think the results are going to take care of themselves,” he said.
“We have a really good team environment, that makes it easier for them to work hard and become successful.”
Q&A with IUP women’s tennis coach Larry Peterson
Q: Who is your all time favorite tennis player?
A: I’ve always really liked Rodger Federer. He looks effortless when he plays and has an unbelievable amount of God-given talent. His domination of the game of tennis for such a long time made it easy for me to be a fan. I also really like Gustavo Kuerten from Brazil. He was incredibly fun to watch.
Q: Besides tennis, do you enjoy watching any other sports?
A: I’m more of a college basketball and football fan. Whenever I’m coaching, I’m most likely watching college football.
Q: Do you have a favorite college football team you root for?
A: I love the Big Ten. When the Big Ten is playing, I’m always rooting for those teams. I like Penn State and Purdue a lot, as well as Ohio State and Michigan. Even though I’d probably say I’m more of an Ohio State fan.
Q: Who has inspired and impacted you the most throughout your coaching career?
A: I have learned a lot as a coach from watching pro tennis on TV. There have been various tennis commentators, like Patrick and John McEnroe, that have taught me a ton throughout the years just from listening to them on TV. Brad Gilbert is also someone who knows the game, making it easy to learn from him.