The men’s tennis program has improved tremendously over the last seven years under the direction of three-time Southern Conference Coach of the Year Michael Leonard. The 2012 team will be aiming to repeat as the Southern Conference regular-season champions as his squads have finished no lower than second in the Southern Conference in five of the last six seasons.
Leonard also guided the Phoenix to league titles in 2007 and a shared championship in 2006. In his eighth year as the head of the Elon men’s tennis program, Leonard’s remarkable run at the helm has included the Phoenix’s rise from a winless SoCon campaign in his first year to three league championship seasons and two league runner-up finishes.
Leonard’s teams have amassed an impressive 112-61 record (.647) in dual matches — highlighted by a sizzling 107-44 overall ledger (.709) and an astounding 48-9 SoCon slate (.842) since 2006 — while establishing Elon as a perennial SoCon power. For his efforts, he was recognized as the SoCon Coach of the Year in both 2006 and 2007.
His 2011 squad went 18-7 overall and claimed the SoCon crown with a 9-1 ledger in league play. The Phoenix opened the year by upsetting No. 56 South Carolina by a 5-2 score. With a record of 6-5 after an extremely challenging early slate, Leonard's team reeled off eight consecutive victories and won 12 of its final 14 matches of the season. The Phoenix peaked at No. 65 in the ITA rankings during the year. The 2011 team boasted the league freshman of the year in Cameron Silverman while teammate Alberto Rojas earned the league's Don Bunch/Buddy Hartsell Sportsmanship Award. Leonard took home SoCon Coach of the Year honors thanks to his team's performance.
With a young team void of any seniors in the starting lineup and a challenging schedule in 2010, the Phoenix competed against some of the nation’s best to begin the season. Elon continued to improve as the season went on and earned one of the four seeds to the league tournament with a 6-4 SoCon record. The fourth-seeded Phoenix upset top-seeded College of Charleston, 4-3, in the semifinals to advance to the championship match for a fourth straight season. The title match came down to the wire with UNC Greensboro managing the 4-3 victory over the Phoenix.
In 2009, Elon produced a 21-6 mark, its second 20-win season under Leonard’s tutelage. With a 9-1 regular-season league mark, the Phoenix came up just short in the SoCon Tournament championship match, falling to Furman in the final match. Damon Gooch and Philip Nemec became the first-ever Elon players to be selected to the NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Championship. Gooch, a four-time first-team All-SoCon honoree, competed in both singles and doubles, with Nemec as his doubles partner. Gooch ranked 20th individually and the doubles tandem of Gooch and Nemec ranked 56th – the highest ITA ratings ever achieved by Elon players at the NCAA Division I level.
Leonard guided the Phoenix to a 17-9 mark – 7-2 in the league – en route to a 2008 second-place finish in the conference regular season and tournament despite relying on four freshmen in the six singles spots. Gooch, one of Leonard’s first recruits, reached No. 72 in the national rankings. Four players were named all-conference with Oscar Podlewski becoming the Phoenix’s second SoCon Freshman of the Year in three seasons.
In 2007, Leonard led Elon to its first-ever SoCon Tournament championship in any sport, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Fashioning a 23-3 overall record, Elon surpassed its 1990 NAIA Division I national championship team (22-3) as the winningest squad in Phoenix men’s tennis history. Leonard was a junior playing at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles on the 1990 team. Of the 2007 squad’s 23 wins, 13 were decided in shutout fashion. Elon finished the year ranked 44th in the country.
The 2007 season also saw the Phoenix forge a perfect 12-0 mark against SoCon opponents and losses only to nationally-ranked foes Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest. Elon’s 14-match winning streak entering NCAA tournament action marked the program’s longest streak since the 1993 squad won 17 matches in a row. The Phoenix finished 3-3 against nationally-ranked teams and 20-0 against unranked programs.
Leonard led Elon from a last-place finish in the SoCon in 2005 to a share of first place in 2006 and the outright title in 2007. The remarkable turnaround saw the Phoenix go from 5-17 overall and 0-10 in the SoCon in 2005 to 19-5 overall and 8-1 in the SoCon in 2006 with a squad made up of all underclassmen.
Gooch became Elon’s first SoCon Freshman of the Year in 2006 and was honored with Elon’s first-ever national ranking among NCAA Division I players at No. 120. Gooch and Austin Fenn also earned the program’s first Division I doubles ranking (77th).
The 2006 squad also became the first Elon men’s tennis team to receive the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic Award. Leonard has had at least one player earn ITA Scholar-Athlete distinction in each of his years as head coach.
In his first season at Elon, Leonard coached ESPN The Magazine Second Team Academic All-American Pramote Malasitt to Stein H. Basnight Outstanding Athlete honors in 2005, recognizing him as the Elon male athlete of the year.
Prior to coaching the Phoenix, Leonard served as the tennis director at the Raleigh Racquet Club (1995-2004) in Raleigh, N.C., where he was in charge of one of the largest junior programs in the South with nearly 200 juniors. He was also responsible for coordinating and implementing clinics, facilitating tennis and social activities for members and handling all financial operations of the tennis program. During his tenure, Leonard coached many nationally-ranked juniors, including two national champions.
A 1991 Elon graduate, Leonard was named all-conference and all-district during each of his four years of competition. In 1991, he was tabbed the South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year and earned Stein H. Basnight Outstanding Athlete honors. An NAIA All-American in both 1990 and 1991, he was inducted into the Elon Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Leonard continued his playing career after his college days, becoming the North Carolina state champion in 1992 and earning a No. 1 ranking in the North Carolina Men’s Open Division. He played professional tennis in 1993-94, during which time he competed in circuit tournament competitions throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada, England, Spain and Portugal, achieving a world ranking.
Leonard and his wife, Amy, have two daughters, Olivia and Julia.