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Our Rich History: The story of intercollegiate tennis at Thomas More College/University

By Raymond G. Hebert, PhD
Thomas More University

According to limited institutional records, Villa Madonna College (later renamed Thomas More) had an intercollegiate Men’s Tennis Team in 1957–1958. Women’s competitive tennis arrived 20 years later, in 1982–1983. Overall, tennis became an up-and-coming sport in high schools during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Even then, in Northern Kentucky, it was commonly restricted to outdoor courts.

During James Roebker’s senior season in 1983, Thomas More won the KIAC conference and NAIA District 32 titles. (TMU Archives)

Everything changed, however, with the opening of the Four Seasons Family Sports Club (later Five Seasons) in 1987 when the interest increased consistently with the improved facilities. Looking back through the years as examples, the following athletes achieved success and became members of the Thomas More Athletic Hall of Fame.

Among the Hall of Fame honorees have been Dr. James Roebker, Class of 1983, inducted in 2014; Jeff D. Maren, Class of 1989, inducted in 2010; Mark McAndrew, Class of 1990, inducted in 2002; and, most recently, Michael Selm, Class of 2007, inducted in 2022.

Their Hall of Fame profiles have been recorded as follows (Athletic Department Files, Thomas More University):

• Dr. James Roebker: During Roebker’s senior season in 1983, Thomas More won the KIAC conference and NAIA District 32 titles. Roebker played No. 3 singles and finished second in the KIAC and first in the NAIA. He finished with a singles record of 15-8, going 9-2 in the conference and 4-2 in the district in 1983. He played No. 1 doubles in 1983 with Doug Zalla, finishing second in the KIAC and third in the NAIA. He had an overall doubles record of 14-7 that season, going 9-2 in conference and 11-4 in the district. At the time of the his Hall of Fame induction, Dr. Roebker served at the Radiology Associates of Northern Kentucky and was a past president there. He was on the Board of Trustees at St. Elizabeth Healthcare (SHE) and was the Chairman of the Physicians Relations Committee (SHE) as well as Chair of the Department of Radiology.

John W. Pratt played tennis from 1982 until he graduated in 1985. He led the team in wins for two seasons and was named a runner-up for the National Arthur Ashe Award. (TMU Archives) 

• John W. Pratt: Pratt played on the men’s tennis team from 1982 to 1985 and was the first men’s tennis scholarship player, as Thomas More had become a member of the NAIA during the 1980s. He led the team in wins for two seasons, was named a runner-up for the National Arthur Ashe Award, and was named All-KIAC and a first team NAIA Scholar All-American.

• Jeff Maren: Maren was a Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) All-Conference Team honoree, a four-time KIAC Singles and doubles champion and a NAIA National Championship Qualifier all four years. Jeff won 80 percent of his matches and was a three-time NAIA District 32 singles and doubles champion. After graduation, Jeff stayed at Thomas More and coached the women’s tennis team during its first two years as a varsity sport.

Jeff D. Maren graduated from Thomas More in 1989. He played No. 1 or No. 2 singles and doubles all four years. (TMU Athletics) 

• Mark McAndrew: One of the best tennis players in the history of Thomas More, Mark McAndrew advanced to the 1992 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Tournament in singles and in doubles along with partner Andrew Green. In 1990, McAndrew won both the singles and doubles titles at the NAIA District 32 tennis tournament. At the conclusion of his senior season, he finished with a singles record of 17-9 and a doubles record of 18-7. As a team, Thomas More won the NAIA District 32 Championship in three of McAndrew’s four seasons. Individually, he advanced to the national tournament all four years, three with the team and once as an individual. Over his final two seasons, McAndrew totaled 29 wins in singles competition and 33 wins in doubles. McAndrew was the team’s number one singles player as both a junior and senior.

Mark McAndrew graduated from Thomas More in 1990. In 1990, McAndrew won both the singles and doubles titles at the NAIA District 32 tennis tournament. (TMU Archives)

• Michael Selm: Selm recorded an impressive 53-8 overall record during his four years at Thomas More while at the number one spot in singles. He was the first male athlete in Thomas More history to win a PAC Men’s Tennis Championship and to earn the PAC MVP honors. He also had won the PAC regular season title and was named PAC Player of the Year for the first time in school history. Selm was a three-time All-PAC selection, including one-time first team in singles and two-time honorable mention in singles and doubles. He was named the tennis team captain and team MVP every one of his four years.

Michael Selm was one of Thomas More’s rare two-sport athletes. Now at Fidelity Investments, he serves as the Director of Portfolio Management Services and manages a team of sixteen portfolio managers. Michael was attracted to Thomas More College because of its academic reputation, as well as its small class sizes. He liked the sense of being part of a caring community and not just a number. As a multi-sport high school athlete at La Salle High School in Cincinnati and an excellent student, he believed he could succeed academically at Thomas More while participating intercollegiately in both tennis and basketball. Sports had been an important part of his life and he desperately wanted to stay involved with them (interview with Angie Hawk, 4/28/2023, Department of Institutional Advancement, as a part of a series of conversations with former members of the prestigious James Graham Brown Honors Program [JGBHP]).

Michael Selm graduated from Thomas More in 2007. He recorded an impressive 53-8 overall record during his four years at Thomas More while at the number one spot in singles. (TMU Athletics)

What is most special about Michael, in fact, is that he soon showed enough academic prowess to be one of the small exclusive number of students chosen to be a JGBHP Scholar. As a Business Administration major, he excelled, graduating as their Valedictorian (a designation established in the early years of the twenty-first century but has since been discontinued). During his undergraduate years, while playing both sports, he lived on campus the entire time and stayed active with multiple organizations – frequently serving as a presenter, host, and speaker for his academic program and the JGBHP.

Athletically, Selm’s greatest successes were in Men’s Tennis, though he had significant playing time in Men’s Basketball as well – being known for his outside shot. Most notably in Tennis, he recorded an impressive 53-8 overall record during his four years and, in the always-challenging number one spot in singles he was “the first male athlete in Thomas More history to win a President’s Athletic Conference (PAC) Men’s Tennis Championship and to earn the PAC MVP Honors.” In that same year (2007), he “won the PAC regular season title and was named PAC Player of the Year for the first time in school history.” In 2007, he was also named Honorable Mention All-PAC at No. 1 Doubles, playing with Ryan Thompson (Michael Pagano, Co-Sports Information Director, email about Michael Selm with information from Athletic Department files, September 28th, 2023). After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, he went on to earn his MBA from Thomas More (3.94 GPA) with an emphasis on Finance, finishing in October 2009. While going through the MBA and working at Fidelity, he was hired by Thomas More as the Head Men’s Tennis Coach and served in that role from 2009–2016. In his words: “I wanted to give back to the school that gave me so much. The only way I was able to handle so much responsibility was being used to a heavy workload as I have been in my undergraduate days.” It helped that his first house was in Independence, Kentucky, just a short distance from campus. Married in 2012, he and his wife Tiffany have two children (Notes from Michel Selm email and sports statistics from Michael Pagano, then-Co-Director of Sports Information TMU).

Sergio Pascual graduated from Thomas More in 2016.  He won the Most Valuable Player award during his junior and senior year under Coach Eilerman. (Courtesy of Sergio Pascual) 

Sergio Pascual was one of the athletes who played for Coach Selm (during his final two years). He stated of him, while emphasizing their shared status as two-sport athletes: “Coach Selm instilled in me a fighting spirit which ultimately defined my own game for the rest of my career. I am forever grateful to Coach Selm for his knowledge, professionalism, and his continuous support on and off the court” (Sergio Pascual, October 30, 2023).

Looking back on his Thomas More experience and reflecting on the opportunities he had, Pascual shared (in an interview with Angie Hawk about the JGBHP) how appreciative he was of being able to participate so fully in all three aspects of Thomas More: athletic, academic, and the JGBHP. He reiterated the value of the small class sizes which “forced you to be prepared because you knew you were going to be called on and . . . they encouraged students to volunteer to answer questions rather than just sit back.” He valued the importance of sharpening critical thinking skills, as well as his team experiences. Above all, he felt that these experiences “set him up to show up in Fidelity training (with confidence) to make his mark as an assertive and take-charge employee.”

In his comments about his time at Fidelity, now in management and leading highly skilled Investment Consultants, he attributes his success to “the skills he learned at Thomas More allowing him to present and connect with his team in their goals of helping many clients everyday” (Angie Hawk Interview and Michael Selm email, September/October, 2023).

Michael Selm has clearly been a model of the successful Thomas More student-athlete who took advantage of the many opportunities set before him during his four years on campus as a rare double-sport athlete. On October 27, 2023, Michael will be returning to campus as a speaker for the Freshman Year Experience cohorts about his career in Finance. Like many Thomas More graduates, he is anxious to return to campus anytime for a dialogue with current students about how his Thomas More experiences academically and athletically prepared him well for the world to follow beyond Thomas More University.

Brooke Warden graduated from Thomas More in 2020. In 2017, during her sophomore year she received PAC Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive year, becoming the first repeat women’s tennis champion in the PAC since the 2007–2008 season. (Courtesy of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference)

A centerpiece of Thomas More’s Tennis Program was the most successful of its coaches, Christopher Eilerman. It was on October 31, 2012, in a Thomas More College press release that Athletic Director Terry Connor announced that Eilerman had been named the new Thomas More head women’s tennis coach. He replaced Ryan Meyer, who had resigned to accept the women’s and men’s tennis coaching position at Division 1 University of Dayton. A Moreover article in 2017 talked about how the “success on the court for Eilerman’s Thomas More College women’s tennis team continued its steady improvement from 2012 through the 2017 season,” which would become a peak year (“Saints Women’s Tennis Improves Season Over Season,” Moreover, December 2, 2017).

The proof of that assertion could be found in the President’s Athletic Conference Annual Report for that year: “Thomas More College scored titles in two singles flights and a pair of doubles flights and a pair of doubles flights and a pair of doubles flights to earn the league’s team title (its first) in 2017. The Saints finished with 45 points in the 9-team flighted championship tournament, winning PAC titles at 3rd and 4th singles and 1st and 2nd doubles. Thomas More’s Chris Eilerman was voted the league’s Coach of the Year” (“Local College Sports, sharonherald.com, April 26, 2018).

Prior to his head coaching promotion at Thomas More, Eilerman had been assistant coach on campus for two years as well as assistant varsity coach at Covington Catholic High School and a teaching pro at Five Seasons. Ironically, just as former player Sergio Pascual had been coached in his first two years by Michael Selm so, in his final two years, Pascual was coached by Chris Eilerman (as was his sister Maria Pascual). What he emphasized about Eilerman was his “patience, class, and hunger to elevate the program” and how he “pushed him daily to never settle for mediocrity, to play aggressively but intelligently, and to win and lose with class.”

It was under Coach Eilerman that Sergio Pascual was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Tennis Program during his junior and senior seasons. He had learned well. Clearly, through Sergio Pascual’s reminiscences, we see two coaches — Selm and Eilerman — who were appreciated for elevating the players’ games to their best and for “cultivating a tradition of success in our program” that has carried to the present day.

Chris Eilerman played tennis for Thomas More all four years, graduating in 1995. He was inducted into the Thomas More University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014. He would later go on to coach the men’s program from July 2014 to November 2018, while coaching the women’s program from 2013 to November 2018. (TMU Athletics) 

The Thomas More Women’s Tennis’s most consistent All-Conference performers in the Chris Eilerman years were Brooke Warden (first team in first singles in 2016 and 2017) and Anna Hetzer (2nd team 3rd singles in 2015, and several honorable mentions). Other stellar performers in the years leading up to 2017 and especially in 2017 were: Emily Wesselman (2009–2012), Jenny Block, Maryann Meadows, Nicole Capodagli, Sarah Fellinger, Hannah Lowman (1st team, 1st doubles with Warden), Madison Perr, and Lacy Pohlman. Since 2017, the Thomas More Women’s Tennis Program has had three additional All-Conference selections, in its new Mid-South Conference (MSC), all 2nd team, 3rd double: Dakota Schroeder in 2022 and 2023 and Alexis Covington in 2023. In 2016, Brooke Warden was also named as the PAC Conference’s Player of the Year for Women’s Tennis.

On the Men’s Tennis side, since Michael Selm, the most recognized performers have included: Andrew Hetzer (2009-2012) from 3rd singles to 1st singles – 2nd team in 2011, Eric Thompson (1st team 2nd singles in 2012), Sergio Pascual (a consistent honorable mention all-conference selection from 2013-2017 from 3rd singles to 1st singles). Other first or second team all-conference recognition since 2016 has included: Michael Kenney (1st at 3rd singles in 2017, and 1st in 1st doubles in 2017), Sheldon Preisler (1st in 4th singles in 2017 and 1st in 2nd doubles in 2018 plus 1st in 3rd singles in 2018), Derrick Kwok (1st in 1st doubles in 2017 and 2018), Jared Haught (first in fifth singles in 2018 and first in first doubles in 2018), Jeffrey Schenk (1st in 2nd doubles in 2018), Fernando Martin Paz (in the MSC 2nd team 3rd doubles in 2021), Anderson McDowell (MSC 2022, 2nd team 3rd doubles in 2022), Alonso De Prada (2nd team MSC for 3rd doubles in 2022), and Jackson Paulos (MSC, 2nd team 3rd doubles in 2023).

Sergio Pascual, who played in two sports from 2012–2016, perhaps expressed it best: “At no point during my college career was I ever faced with the hard decision of choosing one sport over the other. Rather, I was actively encouraged to compete in both and was given the resources necessary to do so successfully.” He added that the athletes were “able to compete in the sport(s) they loved at an incredibly high level, facing the best players nationally in our Division III conference but also players at the Division II and even I levels.”

In Sergio’s case, he did not just participate but was quite successful: in his four years he placed 3rd in the President’s Athletic Conference (PAC) Singles Championships (at #3 singles) as a freshman, 3rd in the PAC Singles Championships at #1 Singles as a sophomore, repeated that as a junior, and, while injured as a senior, filled in at #3 Singles and placed four years, he was recognized with an All-Conference Honorable Mention status (TMU Athletic Department Statistics). After graduation, his talent was responsible for “his becoming a teaching pro at a local tennis club in the Greater Cincinnati region.”

For Thomas More’s Tennis players, hard work in both athletics and academics paid off in success. Tennis has been a prime example of what can happen when committed student athletes come together with dedicated coaches like Michael Selm and Chris Eilerman.

Dr. Raymond G. Hebert is Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He is the leading author of Thomas More University at 100: Purpose, People, and Pathways to Student Success (2023). The book can be purchased by contacting the Thomas More University Bookstore at 859-344-3335. Dr. Hebert can be contacted at hebertr@thomasmore.edu.

Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Editor of the “Our Rich History” weekly series and Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU). He also serves as Director of the ORVILLE Project (Ohio River Valley Innovation Library and Learning Enrichment), as well as Editor of the forthcoming ORVIE (Ohio River Valley Innovation Explorer), premiering in Summer 2024. ORVIE is now recruiting authors for entries on all aspects of innovation in the Ohio River Watershed including: Cincinnati (OH) and Northern Kentucky; Ashland, Lexington, Louisville, Maysville, Owensboro and Paducah (KY); Columbus, Dayton, Marietta, Portsmouth, and Steubenville (OH); Evansville, Madison and Indianapolis (IN), Pittsburgh (PA), Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, and Wheeling (WV), Cairo (IL), and Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville (TN). If you would like to be involved in ORVILLE or ORVIE, please contact Paul Tenkotte at tenkottep@nku.edu.

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