It's his third season at the helm of the women's tennis team, but IU Head Coach Ramiro Azcui has been a part of the program for longer than any of his eight athletes have been alive.
Azcui came to Bloomington in 1992 for his first full-time assistant coaching gig. He was an assistant coach for one year at his alma mater, Abilene Christian University, and the same at Baylor University while he earned his master's degree.
Azcui said he knew he wanted to be a head coach around the time of his graduation from Abilene Christian. Azcui got his chance at Truman State University, but it came with a twist: He would coach both its tennis programs.
“Very different experience leading and coaching both men and women at the same time,” Azcui said. “But it was fun because I was young, almost as young as the players.”
Azcui said this was when he found his passion as a women’s coach because of his personality, but it may have been because his women at Truman State were winners. While the men went 30-24 under Azcui, the women boasted a 42-20 record.
After seeing success at his previous schools, Azcui turned around both programs at Truman State to open up his coaching career.
None of those jobs compared to the opportunity he had at IU because of who the head coach was at the time.
“Working under Coach Loring, the reputation and work ethic he had, it was a tremendous experience for me,” Azcui said. “His preparation and attention to detail prepared me well to conduct this program.”
Lin Loring was an NCAA head coach for 44 years, and he capped off his career at IU in 2016. Then-freshmen Madison Appel, Caitlin Bernard and Natalie Whalen were on the 15-11 squad that concluded Loring’s storied tenure at IU.
Loring came to IU in 1977 at the front end of his long coaching career and never looked back.
Through 40 seasons in Bloomington, he produced 16 Big Ten titles, 28 NCAA Championship tournament appearances and a 104-match conference winning streak stretching over eight seasons. He ultimately became the winningest coach in D-1 women’s tennis history.
Fifteen years into Loring's storied stretch, Azcui joined him. The two had a similar compassion for the program and stuck together as a coaching duo for 25 seasons. Azcui helped his predecessor contribute to what he now calls the program’s tradition.
“The tradition that Coach Loring and I built around this program, I wanted to be able to come back and continue it myself,” Azcui said.
In almost three decades as an IU assistant, Azcui gained national recognition as a coach. He was a three-time winner of the Midwest Assistant Coach of the Year and in 2004 he received ITA Assistant Coach of the Year honors.
A resume with 400 wins and five Big Ten titles as an assistant led to various head coaching opportunities across the country, but Azcui never budged. He said turning down those openings was the best decision he made.
“I stayed here for a long time so I could have the opportunity to lead this program one day,” he said.
Azcui waited patiently and took over the program after the 2016 season. He knew if he wanted the Hoosiers to continue competing at the same level, Azcui would have to take a page or two from Loring’s playbook.
“I’ve tried to keep everything similar to how it was with him just because he ran a first-class program,” Azcui said. “I try to do everything that he did and I made a few changes, but I’ll always be keeping his tradition alive.”
Out of all these traditions Azcui preserves today, none stand out more than the program’s emphasis on academic excellence. Loring would remind his athletes they came to Indiana to get a degree, and IU’s coaching staff does the same today.
“I never changed anything with that because I think the importance of the players to go to classes and finish their degree and to graduate from such a prestigious institution is definitely a big plus,” Azcui said.
On the court, the women’s tennis team continues to excel. In his first two seasons as head coach, Azcui has guided IU to 14- and 17-win seasons. None of Azcui’s success would be possible without assistant coach Ryan Miller.
A former student manager under Loring, Miller returned to IU as a volunteer assistant for the women’s team in 2012 and 2014. After his 2014 stint, Miller left for an opportunity at Hanover College, where he’d coach both men’s and women’s tennis, just like Azcui at Truman State.
With that and their love for helping players improve in common, Miller and Azcui certainly have a few parallels as coaches.
“We share a similar passion with the development of the players because we want them to excel in everything they do,” Azcui said. “I think he’ll have opportunities down the road. In a selfish way, I hope not too soon. I hope he can stay with me for a few years.”
In just his second full season as an IU assistant, Miller will have the opportunity to be a head coach some day, but he may just be Azcui’s coach-in-waiting.
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