Barton hires Underwood as tennis coach

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A seasoned veteran of the NCAA Division II tennis coaching ranks has found a home in Wilson.

Lee Underwood, the owner of 575 career victories at a trio of Division II schools, was officially announced as the new head coach of Barton College men’s and women’s tennis on Monday.

He replaces Matt Rowe, who stepped down after a two-year stint that ended with the Bulldogs winning their second Conference Carolinas tournament title in school history and winning their first-ever match in the NCAA postseason.

“I am delighted that Lee Underwood has accepted the head tennis coaching position,” Barton athletic director Todd Wilkinson said in a release. “Coach Underwood’s long and highly decorated career will be a tremendous asset to the Barton tennis teams and the Wilson community. He is a proven coach that knows the grind and commitment needed to be successful.”

At three separate Division II stops — Davis & Elkins, West Virginia Wesleyan and Edinboro (Pennsylvania) University — Underwood has achieved consistent success.

He launched his coaching career at Davis & Elkins in 1991, winning 272 matches at his alma mater and earning West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors on two occasions. Then it was off to fellow WVIAC member West Virginia Wesleyan, where Underwood reached five NCAA tournaments in six years. In winning 134 matches between the men’s and women’s programs, Underwood’s teams captured four WVIAC titles and he won the league’s Coach of the Year award five times.

His biggest challenge came at his most recent stop before Barton. At Edinboro, Underwood took over a program that had been off the court for seven years. With the Fighting Scots of the Mountain East Conference, he recorded 169 wins, made the NCAA field five times and was named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Coach of the Year for four straight years. In 2013, he was the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Atlantic Region Men’s Coach of the Year.

The Lady Bulldogs, which return all-conference performers Vanessa Sanoja and Marissa Stevenson, won 12 matches last year and reached the Conference Carolinas tournament finals from the No. 6 seed.

“This is a unique experience for me to inherit a team that has had so much success, as I have typically been the guy to raise programs from their lowest points to heights they have never experienced,” Underwood said in Barton’s release. “My goal is always to win conference championships and appear in the NCAA postseason. We are going to have success and probably make some mistakes, but we will grow as a team and as human beings.”