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BIETAU, K-STATE HAVE GROWN TOGETHER

Also See: Jordy Nelson to Throw First Pitch Friday

By Mark Janssen    

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Steve Bietau is the first to admit, "When I started, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew I wanted to coach. I was highly motivated, but vastly inexperienced."

Bietau was 28 years of age when K-State athletics director Dick Towers made the hire in 1984. A native of Rockford, Ill., and graduate of Doane College in Nebraska, Bietau's only coaching experience were three years at the Prairie Dunes Tennis Club in Hutchinson, and at Hutchinson Community College.

It was then he realized that his morning job at the private club was not for him, but the team competitions and improving the net games of young collegians gave him great satisfaction.

Bietau is now in his 27th year of leading the K-State tennis program making him second in terms of longevity in school history bettered only by ex-Wildcat track and field coach Ward Haylett, who coached 34 years spanning five different decades from 1929 through 1963.

"The program didn't have much when I got here, and I was just starting my coaching career, so we grew together," said the now 55-year-old Bietau.

From his prep playing days at Rockford West (Ill.) High School, which ironically is the same school that produced K-State women's basketball coach Deb Patterson, Bietau's game has matured from white tennis balls to the more visible yellow color of today, and from wooden racquets, to ones made of metal, to today's graphite composite.

Bietau was hired as men's and women's coach in 1984 at a total salary of $20,000, plus served as a fund raiser under the wing of John Kadlec.

The women's side had just lost its No. 1 player, had just gone 0-9 against each Big Eight school the prior year, and had no commitments for the upcoming year.

Laughing, he repeated, "That's how naïve I was. That's how much I wanted to coach. I just wanted a chance to see what I could do."

In 1986 the administrative decision was to drop the men's program, which left him with mixed emotions.

"Being a male and a tennis player, I had a hard time with it," said Bietau. "But the decision was probably a good one. The women's program all of a sudden had four scholarships and the total budget of the two programs was lumped into one."

The first season with only a women's program, K-State defeated two Big Eight schools that had a full complement of eight scholarships, and in 1992 the Wildcats competed with Kansas for the Big Eight Championship.

The growth of the program has continued as K-State had NCAA Tournament teams in 1996, 1998 and 2003, and in 1994 and 1998 the Wildcats had its first two All-Americans in Karina Kuregian and Yana Dorodnova.

"When there are 3,000 women playing tennis and one of your players is in the quarterfinals as one of the final eight players, that is a neat feeling," Bietau said of Dorodnova, who won 25 matches in her senior season.

In addition, Helen Schildknecht (1990), Michele Riniker (1992), Kathy Chuda (2000), Eva Novotna (2001), Alena Jecminkova (2002) and Tamar Kvaratskhelia (2005) have been Big 12 champions, along with five different doubles teams.

Since the start of Big 12 play, K-State has had a trio of fifth-place team finishes - 2000, 2001 and 2003 - but also six seasons where the Wildcats have ended up no higher than ninth.

"What we haven't been able to maintain is a high consistency level," said Bietau, who has posted an all-time record of 243-321. "We put together a good team, but we can't sustain it. That's what we want now. We want to see incremental improvement and sustainability."

At 12-4, Kansas State is currently off to its best start to a season in school history, which includes a 3-3 mark in Big 12 play heading into this weekend's home matches on Friday against Colorado and Sunday against Missouri. Both matches will begin at 1 p.m. and take place at the Wamego Recreation Complex.

Ranked No. 31 in the nation, K-State has defeated No. 10 Baylor and No. 25 Texas A&M in Big 12 competition, plus No. 30 Iowa. With five league matches left, the Wildcats total of three league wins have not been bettered since the 6-5 season in 2006, and the 12 overall match victories have not been topped since the 2003 team went 15-8.

Bietau says he's never felt better about the state of K-State tennis than today with John Currie directing the overall department.

He points to accelerated talk on enhancing facilities to making an assurance that women's tennis is not just a program used to meet the NCAA requirement of 16 sports and to help with the number of female athletes.

"There's a feeling of stability and inclusion," said Bietau. "I made it clear that I would like to finish my career here, but I had no intention of wanting to just tread water waiting for the end. I want a quality program."

And at No. 31 in the nation out of 300 NCAA Division I schools, Bietau says, "That puts us among the top 10 percent of teams playing college tennis, and that puts us in the top half in the Big 12. We're working hard to get better and sustain our program at this level."


We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.