By Natalie Fiorilli | Asst. Sports Editor
Whether it is competing as a student-athlete, or taking on the role of graduate assistant, Duquesne director of tennis Vanessa Steiner is familiar with all aspects of the game.
Prior to being promoted to director of both the men’s and women’s tennis programs in July 2016, Steiner initially joined the Dukes as a graduate transfer in 2011. Five seasons later, the Boston University grad is now running the whole show.
Though Steiner, who graduated with a degree in elementary education, wasn’t entirely set on a coaching career, she quickly warmed up to the idea after joining the program as a graduate assistant after her first year on the Bluff.
“I always thought that I wanted to get my master’s and be a graduate assistant somewhere to try out coaching, but I didn’t know what my path was going to be,” Steiner explained. “I knew I wanted to work with students and be in a mentor-type role, and when I started coaching, I just fell in love with it.”
The newly appointed director of tennis, began her undergraduate career competing for the Boston University women’s tennis team as a freshman. However, an injury midway through her sophomore season left Steiner with the difficult decision of whether or not she should return to the sport she loved.
The injury resulted in an unsuccessful ankle reconstruction operation, which left Steiner redshirted for her junior season at BU.
“When I had my surgeries the doctors told me that I would never play tennis again,” Steiner said. “They told me to stop thinking about tennis and to start thinking about my well-being. They told me that, and and I missed [tennis] so much. Even though I was so close with my team at Boston, it was different not being able to contribute.”
Despite the advice she received from her doctors in Boston, Steiner went on to utilize her remaining year of NCAA eligibility by transferring to Duquesne and returning to her hometown of Pittsburgh upon earning her degree at Boston.
In just one season with the Dukes, Steiner set a program record, collecting 36 wins as a senior and was also an Atlantic 10 Conference First Team selection. At the conclusion of her first year with Duquesne, Steiner was offered a graduate position with the women’s team, a role she held for two seasons, before being named assistant coach of women’s tennis in 2014.
Confident in her vision for the program, Steiner decided to aim for the position of director when it became available over the summer.
“I think one of their hesitations was that I’m younger than most head coaches, and although I’ve been in coaching since I graduated, there are people with a lot more experience than me,” Steiner said. “One of the biggest things was my vision; they saw where I want the program to be.”
In her first year as director, and now leading both the men’s and women’s teams, Steiner is determined to put Duquesne tennis on the map.
In 2015 the women’s team made strides, tying a program record with 16 wins, and Steiner hopes to continue that success for both teams. Success on the tennis court isn’t the only way she wants to improve the program though.
A big advocator of serving the community, Steiner has involved Duquesne tennis in “Aceing Autism”, a nonprofit organization that teaches tennis to children with autism. The Dukes have held a free clinic in partnership with the organization for the past few seasons, and Steiner is working to expand the program’s involvement with clinics such as this.
Megan Wasson, a senior on the women’s team, thinks highly of Steiner, especially in the director’s work toward motivating the players.
“Her inspiring leadership pushes us all each day to be the best people we can be by representing Duquesne to the highest degree each time we step out on the court, walk in a classroom or interact with the local community,” Wasson said.
Andrew Ong, a junior on the men’s team went on to explain that Steiner has already made a lasting impact of the program in her short time on the Bluff.
“Her intimate knowledge of the program will allow her to make great strides with our teams in a very short amount of time,” Ong said.
Steiner is also working toward her doctorate in education in instructional technology and educational leadership. This season Steiner will get her chance to begin elevating the program.