SKILLMAN, NJ – The Intercollegiate Tennis Association announced the 2015 inductees for the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame today. The 2015 class consists of six inductees: coaches Fred Kniffen (University of Texas at Tyler & Tyler Junior College) and Jim Schwitters (University of Hawaii); players Jay Berger (Clemson University), Mark Merklein (University of Florida) and Jeff Morrison (University of Florida); and contributor Tim Russell (Northwestern University).
The 2015 ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame Enshrinement Banquet will be held on May 20 during the NCAA Division I Men’s & Women’s Tennis Championships at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, May 14–25.
Fred Kniffen led the men’s tennis team to two NAIA National Championships in 1989 and 1994 while coaching at the University of Texas at Tyler from 1985-1994. His teams also finished third in the country in 1987 and were national runners-up in 1988. Besides the team championships, Kniffen coached Ken Olivier to the NAIA Singles Championship in 1989 and the duo of Olivier and Chris Harris to the doubles title that same year. Olivier would later become UT Tyler’s first tennis coach in the NCAA era. Kniffen first arrived in Tyler in 1973 as tennis coach of Tyler Junior College. During his tenure as coach of the Apaches, Kniffen won four National Championships, was named the National Junior College Men’s Coach of the Year in 1980 and 1983, National Women’s Coach of the Year in in 1983 and 1984 and helped 31 players earn Junior College All-American honors. Kniffen helped bring the Hardin-Simmons University tennis program to national prominence as a player from 1954-1958. A member of the Hardin-Simmons Hall of Fame, Kniffen won Border Conference singles and doubles titles in 1957 and 1958.
Jim Schwitters retired as the winningest coach in NCAA history with a combined men’s and women’s record of 1327-610-15 at the University of Hawaii. He coached the men’s team for 38 years from 1966-2004 to an 819-409-8 record, and coached the women’s team for 25 years from 1966-1991 to a 508-201-7 record. Schwitters coached 26 All-Conference men’s players and 9 National Scholar-Athletes, taught the fundamentals of tennis to more than 14,000 University of Hawaii students for 37 years (1966-2003) and additionally taught at local high schools. As a player, he was named one of the top 10 players of the 20th Century in Hawaii and was Player of the Decade for the 1970s. He won more than 400 tournaments in all eligible age groups, founded the Hawaii division of the USPTA in 1970 and was USTA Hawaii President in 1965.
Jay Berger was a 1986 ITA All-American at Clemson and went 91-22 in his singles career. Between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Clemson, he won the 1985 USTA Boys’ National Championship which earned him a wild card into the main draw of the 1985 US Open. He reached the fourth round, the best finish of any reigning Boys’ 18 champion in the open era. Berger was named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team. He reached a career high of No. 7 in ATP rankings (with pro wins over Sampras, Chang, Courier, Edberg, Connors and Becker), reached the quarterfinals of the US and French Opens and was a member of U.S. Davis Cup team in 1988 and 1990. He was a successful head men’s and women’s coach at the University of Miami (FL) and currently serves as Head of Men’s Tennis for USTA Player Development.
Mark Merklein was a four-time ITA All-American in both singles and doubles for the Florida Gators, a two-time NCAA Champion (1993 doubles, 1994 singles), three-time All-SEC honoree and 1994 SEC Player of the Year. He finished his Florida career ranked first in overall wins and singles wins and second in doubles wins. Merklein played professionally from 1994-2005 and achieved career high ATP rankings of No. 160 in singles and No. 35 in doubles. He was head coach of USTA Player Development Center from 2005-2011 and coached former world ATP No. 4 James Blake on tour for two years. Mark returned to his alma mater Florida as an assistant coach in 2013 and is now in his second season.
Jeff Morrison set a Florida Gator freshman record in 1997-1998 with 30 singles wins and broke the school record his sophomore season by winning 47 singles matches. Entering his sophomore year he was named the ITA National Player to Watch. He won the 1999 NCAA Singles Title that year and was named ITA All-American in singles and doubles. Morrison finished his sophomore season ranked No. 2 in singles and No. 9 in doubles. He also won 26 doubles matches as a sophomore, setting a Gator record for 73 combined matches won in a single season and was named the 1999 SEC Player of the Year. As a junior in 1999-00 he began and finished the season as the No. 1 ranked player in the ITA Rankings, earning ITA All-American in both singles and doubles for the second straight year. He won the SEC Tournament MVP as a junior in 2000 while leading the Gators to the SEC title and was All-SEC in both singles and doubles for the second straight year. Later that season he led the Gators to their first ever Final Four appearance at the NCAA Championships. He played 6 years on the ATP Tour achieving a career high rank in singles of No. 85 and in doubles No. 81. He won 3 ATP Challenger Titles in singles and 8 ATP Challenger Titles in doubles. Jeff was notably the last American standing at 2002 Wimbledon, where he upset No. 4 ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero and reached the 3rd Round.
Tim Russell served as the USTA Collegiate Varsity Chair from 2007-2010 where he helped senior staff put together the first strategic plan for college varsity tennis within the USTA. He was also instrumental in initiating effective collegiate community outreach programs. From 2011-2012 Russell guided the USTA through major changes in the junior competitive tournament model as USTA Junior Competition Chair, creating a model that led to more and better American juniors for college coaches to recruit. He was USTA Presidential Advisor from 2013-2014. Russell also led the ITA Format Steering Committee as moderator and researcher. He spent hundreds of hours analyzing data from the various format tests during the 2014 spring season and led several conference calls and face-to-face meetings with members of the committee to discuss what would be the best format for college tennis. Dr. Russell recently retired as Conductor Laureate, after 35 years with the PROMUSICA Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, OH, and is currently the Director of Orchestras and Professor of Music at Arizona State University. As a conductor and record producer of thirty CD’s, Russell has received two Grammy nominations.
About the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame
The ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame, housed at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex, was inaugurated in 1983 and has inducted more than 200 players, coaches and contributors. The ITA Hall of Fame museum displays over 2,000 rare photos and memorabilia. Its members include the late Arthur Ashe (UCLA), Jimmy Connors (UCLA), John McEnroe (Stanford) and Coach Dick Gould (Stanford). The late Dan Magill, legendary Georgia head men’s tennis coach, served as the curator from its inception until 2013. John Frierson is the current curator. For a complete list of the Hall of Fame Inductees, please visit www.itatennis.com.