Stahlberg helps lift tennis in Mississippi

Kristofer Stahlberg was once a fierce competitor on the tennis courts for the Ole Miss Rebels. Now he is passing his talents and knowledge of the game along to others.

Ole Miss head men's tennis coach Billy Chadwick remembers that former player Kristofer Stahlberg was a tenacious, consistent, relentless, level-headed competitor during his playing days with the Rebels from 1999-2002. The native of Sweden has taken that same level of effort and commitment to his new work as the head tennis professional at Bayou Bluff Tennis Club in Gulfport.

"Kristofer was a great competitor for us," said Chadwick, who has been with the Ole Miss tennis program for a quarter of a century now. "I remember so many matches he played for us here that his will to win and his consistent demeanor really helped him to come through with a victory. That he has taken that same type of approach to his professional career is no surprise to me."

Stahlberg has been at Bayou Bluff since January 2004. He was hired there as an assistant to head pro Nick Barone, also a former Ole Miss tennis player. But Barone left for another job shortly thereafter, and soon it was Stahlberg who was heading things up for the more than 400 members and their families.

"I graduated from Ole Miss in May 2003 and decided to try to play professionally," said Stahlberg, now 26. "I played mostly in New Zealand and in Germany, and I also had offers to teach and coach in those places. But the opportunity came up here as well, and I felt this is the place I needed to be."

Stahlberg rose through the ranks at Ole Miss from a No. 6 singles player early in his career to playing No. 1 at times as a junior to settling in as the solid No. 2 singles player his senior season as well as a part of the No. 1 doubles team. He says his time in Oxford was special in a lot of ways.

"Obviously my time at Ole Miss is very close to my heart," said Stahlberg, who along with fellow Swede Martin Selin were a big part of Ole Miss tennis for four spring seasons. "Competing with my teammates there and playing for the coaches were special to me. And representing the University of Mississippi was something I was very proud of."

And he still is. He comes into daily contact at his job with many Ole Miss people.

"There are a lot of Ole Miss alums here," he said. "We always have a lot to talk about and I enjoy them. That makes this job even more special to me."

Stahlberg has two assistants on staff. He feels there are a lot of good things happening with the tennis program there, and he loves being able to introduce the game to youngsters or to help them improve.

"It is great to be able to help kids become more interested in the sport of tennis," said Stahlberg, who assisted the Ole Miss program the year after he finished playing while he was still in school. "We want to reach more kids this way and to give them guidance from coaches and instructors who can help them. We want them to work harder and smarter at their games and to enjoy playing tennis and become better players."

He specifically has that in mind for kids in Mississippi.

"I want them here to be as hungry to play good tennis as ones in other states or in other countries," sadi Stahlberg, who says he even has a little time to keep his own game in shape - but not much. "I believe what we do here can help tennis in this state, and that it is also good for the kids as they continue to play the sport."

Stahlberg is in charge of all tennis operations at Bayou Bluff. He oversees everything from juniors through adults, from beginners to elite players.

"I really have been focusing a lot on the juniors," said Stahlberg. "I've have been working hard with the under 18s. When I was younger I was a part of the Swedish Tennis Association Elite Academy. I have tried to implement a lot of the same things here that are done there. I am using some of the techniques and teachings here that I learned there."

Stahlberg says he is already seeing young players develop as his program is now well into its second year.

"We have a couple of No. 1 players in the state in their age groups," he said. "We have a couple more that are right behind them."

Stahlberg realizes that the tennis programs at Mississippi and Mid-South area colleges will benefit from what he and others are doing. Former Chadwick players now teach in Grenada (Barone), Jackson (Dave Randall), Tunica (Keith Evans), and Memphis (Ali Hamadeh), as well as what Stahlberg is doing on the Gulf Coast.

"I believe it is important for the universities in Mississippi to have stronger junior programs in the state and area," he said. "I can see that we are making a move in that direction."

Chadwick says it is all very exciting to him that so many of his former players are having an impact on tennis in the region.

"We take a lot of pride in our program, and we also take a lot of pride and interest in what our alums are doing," he said. "What Kristofer and the others are doing in their careers is just outstanding and we're very pleased about it."

Stahlberg says the future of tennis in the state of Mississippi is bright.

"I feel we have a good program here and are doing some great things," Stahlberg said. "Everything seems to be going great, and I look forward to the future of helping tennis players here continue to improve and enjoy playing the game."

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