Audra Cohen, an alumna of Miami (Fla.), has never rooted for the Hurricanes’ to lose a dual match.
At least not until Friday when she guides North Florida to an NCAA tournament first-round matchup against Miami and her former coach Paige Yaroshuk-Tews in Coral Gables, Fla.
Cohen, who turned 26 last week, isn’t too far removed from her college playing days with the Hurricanes where she had a stellar all-American career that included capturing the individual national championship in 2007.
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“I have to admit that it is weird,” said Cohen, who was hired at North Florida last June. “I can’t say I haven’t bit my tongue a few times before saying, ‘Let’s go UNF!’ this season.”
During her playing days, Cohen won most of the major tennis tournaments in Division I, and that success on the court is already showing in her early coaching career.
She didn’t have her full roster set until January, but Cohen and the Ospreys went undefeated in the Atlantic Sun regular season and also took home the trophy at the conference tournament.
Now they have an opportunity to see what they can do in the NCAA tournament against Miami, which is seeded 10th in the 64-team field.
“When I got this job, we had four scholarship players and a walk-on the roster,” Cohen said. “We really didn’t get to see what kind of team we could become until around February. It was hard to say at any point that we expected any of this to happen.”
The Ospreys, 16-4 on the season, know they will be the underdogs going into the dual. It is a different feeling for Cohen since she wore the hat of being the one expected to win whenever she took the court in her collegiate playing days.
There are numerous examples throughout different kinds of sports where exceptional players struggle in the coaching ranks, because their players just don’t have the kind of talent or determination that the coach had when he/she played the game.
Cohen, a psychology graduate at Miami, is careful not to put the expectations she had as a player on her current student-athletes.
“I tell my players that expectations aren’t for them to win every single match, but they have to find a way to use their strengths as an individual to win,” said Cohen, who was an assistant at Wisconsin before taking over the head coaching position at North Florida. “I think there is too much emphasis in coaching trying to solidify the weaknesses of a player. I believe in solidifying strengths and making them even better so you can build up confidence.”
Cohen never thought she would enter the coaching world this quickly. After winning the NCAA individual title as a junior at Miami, she decided to turn professional and play on the Women’s Tennis Association tour.
After two years, Cohen ended her playing career.
“It is very expensive to play on that tour,” Cohen said. “At that time, the economy wasn’t doing well in 2008 and 2009 either. It is a game of numbers at the end of the day, and I couldn’t afford to keep traveling to keep playing.”
She was also suffering from injuries at the time. The memories of her college career, both at Northwestern as a freshman and two years at Miami drew her back to college tennis.
“For me, it was a remarkable experience,” Cohen said. “Having a strong playing resume has been a positive once I decided I wanted to get into college coaching.”
Cohen, who was named Intercollegiate Tennis Association national player of the year twice at Miami, appears to have found her professional calling.
“As the coach, I can set the tone each day in practice,” Cohen said. “When they come to practice, I want it to be the best part of their day.”