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Liberty Tennis Serves Ace with New Facility

September 20, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Liberty's Cook Tennis Center is located adjacent to the Hershey Tennis Courts.

The following article first appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of Flames Illustrated, the official game program for the Liberty-James Madison football game.  Text was changed in one portion, to report results of the Lady Flames' invitational tournament which was hosted over the weekend.

It's no secret that construction around the Liberty University campus has been abundant over the last year.  Many of the Flames' athletic programs have been involved in improvements, but the men's and women's tennis teams may have seen the most changes in the last 12 months.

This month, head coach Chris Johnson continues to settle his teams into the recently finished Cook Tennis Center, the new home for Liberty tennis. With the new 2,500-square foot facility directly overlooking the Hershey Tennis Courts—which were also completed in the last year—and the Esbenshade Tennis Courts across the street, the programs are proud of a facility which Johnson calls "the nicest tennis facility in central Virginia."

Serving as the one-stop shop for the tennis teams, the Cook Tennis Center contains all the necessities for a top-tier program in one location. On the ground level, student-athletes have access to men's and women's locker rooms, a training room and a stringing room. Upstairs features coaches' offices as well as a team room.

Liberty Athletics announced the plans for the new tennis center last November, after long-time supporters Sherwin and Lora Cook pledged the lead gift for the project. Mr. Cook, a Liberty University Board of Trustees member, shares the University's belief in the importance of Christian education. The 86-year old, who picked up the game at the age of 60, is an avid tennis player and has developed a particular affection for Liberty's tennis programs.

"We are extremely grateful for the generosity shown by Sherwin Cook for our new tennis center.  Mr. Cook, a long-time tennis player himself, has had a great interest in our tennis program for many years," commented Jeff Barber, Liberty Director of Athletics.

Liberty men's and women's head tennis coach Chris Johnson also showed his appreciation, saying, "We're so thankful to Mr. Cook and the Cook family for helping us with our tennis facility projects.  We couldn't be more excited."

The Cook's generosity will help boost the Flames' tennis programs in a variety of ways, all of which will help in the development of a top-notch Division I program. While facilities surely act as a recruiting tool for collegiate student-athletes, the complex will also allow more than just dual tennis matches to be contested on Liberty Mountain.

Completion of the facility will now let Liberty Athletics host collegiate postseason tennis competition, including the Big South Men's and Women's Tennis Championships and opening rounds of the NCAA Tennis Championships.

The Flames and Lady Flames will also be able to host fall tournaments, with the first taking place this past weekend. Liberty's women hosted players from six schools— Appalachian State, James Madison, Longwood, Radford, Sweet Briar and Washington and Lee—and competed in nine different draws.  Lady Flames earned titles in two draws, with Cameron Richard winning the A Singles and teaming with Brittany Yang for the A Doubles title.  The tournament marked the first time one of Liberty's tennis teams has hosted a fall event since September of 2007, when the Lady Flames hosted players from James Madison, Longwood and Lynchburg College.

While Johnson stated that tennis recruits don't immediately look at facilities when choosing a college, they become a big factor once a short list of prospective colleges is created. With the current upgrades, Johnson believes that the tennis facilities are now top-notch and match everything else that Liberty has to offer.

"Liberty is such a fantastic place.  Most recruits come here and they just can't believe it's this big and this nice.  Then, to have a facility that parallels that when they come to the tennis facility, it's going to be so nice.  We just couldn't be more excited as we move forward."

Barber also notes the use of the facilities in recruiting, and at the same time, recognizes the importance of a team having a place to call their own. "The new Cook Tennis Center is a great addition to our tennis program and, in addition to being a great recruiting tool, it will also serve as a great home to all present and future Flames tennis players."

Combining the successes of Liberty's men's and women's tennis teams in the recent years with the completion of first-rate facilities, the entire tennis program is on its way to achieving the prominence it is aiming for.

Tim Hartin is a graduate assistant in athletics communications for Liberty Athletics.