AUBURN, Ala. -- When Lauren Spencer took over as the head coach of Auburn's women’s tennis team in October 2011, the program was coming off of a 5-19 season that included just a single SEC win. Immediately she knew that the culture of the team had to change for the success of the program long-term.
In Spencer’s first season as head coach, she didn’t make any changes to the team, retaining all of the players she inherited and not bringing in any newcomers. Instead, she focused on building up the players she had and forming a family culture. From there, a new dynamic for Auburn’s women’s tennis would form.
Spencer’s first business was to surround herself with her own family, both real and perceived. Having been the head coach at SMU for five years, she convinced Chris Hooshyar, a highly successful men’s player at SMU that had transitioned into the coaching world, to come along to assist her at Auburn.
“I got to watch Chris play in college and I can remember how competitive he was,” Spencer said. “If I would have stayed at SMU, he would have been my next assistant. He is extremely talented at developing players and knows what to look for when it comes to recruiting. Most importantly, his enthusiasm is contagious and he does a great job of forming relationships with the girls he recruits. Chris really helps to cement the family atmosphere we are working to build.”
A noted recruiter, Hooshyar was added to the staff in 2012 and has been instrumental in bringing some of the top talent in the world to Auburn. He has also helped Auburn women’s tennis to reach a whole new level. In his first season as assistant coach, the Tigers finished the season 17-11.
Spencer’s father, Jim Longbotham, coached tennis at Groesbeck (Texas) High School for 33 years and as her coach had showed her how important the family atmosphere for a team that included sometimes fewer than 10 players was. Longbotham became her volunteer coach, a role he still holds today, sometimes driving the 11 hours from Texas to Auburn just to be by her side.
"As soon as he retired, I knew that I wanted him to come and be a part of this program,” said Spencer. "He has always coached at a high level and he has helped us a lot since he has been here. He taught me how to play tennis and has been my coach since I was four years old.”
Senior Pleun Burgmans is a perfect example of the Auburn Family atmosphere. As Spencer’s first recruit at Auburn in 2012, Burgmans is now one of the most successful players in Auburn women’s tennis history. With over 174 combined victories in singles and doubles, Burgmans now ranks No. 2 in Auburn women’s tennis history.
Burgmans and former doubles team mate Emily Flickinger picked up 57 doubles victories in three seasons as team mates. Even though Flickinger has finished her playing career at Auburn, she wanted to continue as part of the Auburn Family and became a graduate assistant this season.
“Having Flick (Emily Flickinger) on the staff has been great for this team,” said Hooshyar. “The girls really look up to her because of her leadership and what she has done in her career.”
Flickinger is a two-time All-American in doubles and is second in Auburn history, behind Burgmans with 93 career doubles victories. She also ranks in the top ten in singles victories and combined wins at Auburn.
In only her fifth season at Auburn, Spencer has over 74 wins and is the all-time winningest coach in Auburn women’s tennis history. She has led Auburn to the NCAA tournament in three straight seasons. The Auburn women’s tennis team will look to continue to build on it’s success and advance to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.
Auburn women’s tennis will look to continue it’s strong start to the SEC season today when the Tigers travel to Knoxville to face off against No. 71 Tennessee. Auburn will be in Athens, Ga. for another top-ten matchup against No. 3 Georgia on Sunday.