BY JEREMY HOECK
Brett Barnett is no stranger to the southeast corner of South Dakota, having driven through the area while visiting family in Minnesota.
The 35-year-old Colorado native is, though, new to Vermillion.
Barnett, formerly the head men’s tennis coach and assistant women’s coach at Fort Wayne since 2012, was announced last week as the new head women’s tennis coach at the University of South Dakota. His interview for the position was done over the phone, he said.
The 2012 and 2014 Summit League Men’s Tennis Coach of the Year, Barnett replaces Malcolm Gilreath, who had coached at USD since 2004. While under the guidance of Barnett, the Fort Wayne men reached the semifinals of the conference tournament in 2013 and got to the finals in 2014. Barnett was 40-37 in three seasons with the Mastodons.
Barnett, who officially begins his duties at USD on Jan. 5, talked with the Press & Dakotan about taking over the Coyote women’s program.
P&D: What was your knowledge of the USD program before you applied?
Barnett: I’ve known the USD team the last few years through our matchups, so for me, it was a no brainer when it was posted. I knew how good they are, and I see a lot of potential in the program that we can turn it into a Summit League contender.
Do you think that familiarity can translate to success?
Knowing the league, knowing where USD is in the league, I don’t think realize how good the Summit League is in womens and men’s tennis. My familarity definitely helped. I’ve got a good background on all the other teams, and that can help right away with matchups and scouting.
When you look at USD’s roster, you see players from Serbia, Australia, Germany, Ukraine, India and Wales. How important is it to recruit within the borders of the United States?
We talked a lot about that (in the interview). That’s something I had to do here in Fort Wayne, it was the same thing, to bring in American kids that could help. Up at USD, it’s an international team, and honestly, I like that. I like the diversity they bring in, they’re already hard workers when they get there, and they’re more mature than the other kids would be. I think that’ll help me, but I’ll obviously need to catch up quickly.
Home matches have become quite rare in Vermillion. How does that play into building a fan base?
Thankfully Sioux Falls has that new facility, so we’ll try to get in as many home matches there as we can. We just have to try to schedule some more, and not so early that the weather presents problems. But I think fans will like the level they’ll see.
Although you said you didn’t visit the USD campus for your interview, what’s the sense of Vermillion that you get?
When my wife and I talked about what, we decided that we wanted a small college town. I think that’ll be the case there, too. Vermillion likes their athletics, and USD does a good job reaching out to the surrounding communities. It sounds like a big family up there.
How about your family?
My wife (Julie) was born in a small town in Michigan, and my girls (Annika and Mia) love college sports. When I told them we’re were moving, they asked they about the sports at USD. My 7-year-old loves volleyball, and they were excited to hear USD has football; they havent seen football. That right there helped us sell the kids more than anything.