When the average fan watches tennis, they marvel at the individual stars. At Culver City high school, tennis has developed into a team first program under the direction of long-time tennis coach Phil Rothenberg.
Rothenberg’s 22nd season as the head coach ended early because of the coronavirus, and like all of the other spring sports at the high school, the boys’ tennis team had one of their most talented teams in recent memory.
“We knew we were going to win league, and with Greg (Troyan), we had one of the top players in the league. We also had some outstanding doubles players along with several other talented individuals,” Rothenberg said during a telephone interview this week. “The team was in the CIF Division 2, and we had beaten every Division 2 team that we had played this year. We were all disappointed and sorry we did not get the opportunity to keep going.”
The Centaurs had six seniors on their team, so it was even more difficult for them. They had six other players on the team, and during the majority of the matches, all 12 players played either as an individual or on a doubles team.
What did Rothenberg, who also coaches the girls’ tennis team in the fall, tell the boys? “It was not much that we could tell them other than we were really disappointed and pretty upset that they did not get a chance to finish the season.”
It’s all bittersweet for Rothenberg because he is steeping away from his head coaching duties after over two decades at the helm. “I am not leaving,” said Rothenberg. “I am going to be helping out. I will now be the assistant and the head coach will be Nicholas Murchison. We will flip flop positions. I have been the head coach for a long time now it’s time to turn it over to someone else.”
Rothenberg’s tenure started in 1998. “I was teaching at Culver City and the Athletic Director needed another tennis coach. He knew I had a background in tennis so he asked me if I would take over the boys and girls program.”
Rothenberg retired from teaching a few years ago, but he continued to follow his passion, coaching tennis. “I was a basketball player growing up and I played well into my 40’s. When I was 25 a lot of my friends were playing tennis. I wanted to get better so I started taking lessons from Oscar Johnson. Johnson was one of the first African Americans on the pro tennis tour. That’s how it all started.”
Rothenberg met Johnson while he was teaching in the Inglewood school district. During his time in Inglewood a couple of his students were future Lakers, Elden Campbell and Byron Scott.
Rothenberg also gives a lot of credit for the teams’ recent success to the Culver City Middle school coach, Scott Wilson. “We have players coming to the high school who are more prepared.”
As an assistant coach, Rothenberg will continue to stay engaged. “I will try to keep the players motivated and competitive, and most important, I want to keep the players happy, and I know Coach Murchison is going to be a great leader.”
Coach Murchison is ready for the challenge. “It’s a little scary, but I have been fortunate to have worked with Phil for four years. I have been able to see how he does it. He has been going strong for 22 years and to see how he brings everyone together is really cool,” said Murchison a former Marine who spent 12 years in the service.
“One of the things that he has taught me that I will continue to do is not cut players. Coach Phil gave everyone that came out an opportunity to play and get the experience to be part of a team.”
At first Murchison, was a little skeptical about the no cut policy but he was quick to learn that’s what coach Rothenberg was all about. “Sometimes, you think this is not going to work for some of the kids, but as you watch the kids progress and you see the friendships that are created. I get it.”