As a two-sport student-athlete at Emory University, Amy Bryant was already preparing herself to become a college athletics administrator. “Initially, administration was my career goal, not coaching,” she explained.
While she has never given up on her dream to become an athletic director, Bryant completed her 20th year as the Eagles’ head women’s tennis coach in May, a career that includes six NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Championship titles and 402 wins.
Student-Athlete Days at Emory
Bryant (then Smith) entered college having played tennis and soccer in high school, but decided to just play tennis in her first year. She found success quickly, leading Emory to the University Athletic Association (UAA) title and earning first team All-Association honors at No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles with Mandy Jackson. The Eagles advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA championship.
“I missed soccer though and decided to play both sports my last three years,” she recalled. Bryant earned all-region honors twice in soccer and, despite playing only three seasons, graduated as the program’s all-time leader in goals (39) and points (98). She now ranks third all-time in points and goals, but remains first in goals per game (0.68) and points per game (1.72).
The Eagles shared the UAA women’s soccer title in Bryant’s sophomore season and then advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship in her junior and senior seasons. She earned All-Association honors twice, including first team accolades as a junior.
Furthermore, she earned first team honors each year in tennis, playing No. 3 singles as a sophomore, No. 2 singles as a junior, and No. 1 singles, earning UAA Most Valuable Player in her senior campaign. She also garnered first team honors all three seasons at No. 1 doubles, teaming with Jackson again in her sophomore year, and then with Megan Bern her final two seasons. Bryant and Jackson reached the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Championship quarterfinals in doubles in 1994, while she and Bern reached the national semifinals in 1996.
As a junior in 1995, she reached the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Championship singles final, but the Eagles fell in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Bryant, who had already made history as the program’s first player to earn All-America honors in singles and doubles, led Emory to its first NCAA title in women’s tennis as a senior in 1996. The Eagles won two matches 5-3, edged Kenyon College 5-4 in the national semifinal, and took home their first title with a 5-1 victory over Washington & Lee University.
In addition to her UAA and national honors, Bryant was twice named Emory’s female recipient of the school’s Bridges Award as its outstanding all-around athlete and, in her junior year, won the McCord Award that honored outstanding individual athletic achievement.
Becoming the Tennis Coach
Then athletic director Chuck Gordon became Bryant’s mentor during her time as a student. “I told him I wanted to be an athletic director. He gave me an internship between my junior and senior year as a facilities intern,” she recalled. After college, she went to work at IBM for a year “I wasn’t fulfilled at IBM. There was pressure to chase the money, which wasn’t a motivator for me. So I set off on a path to rediscover what was important to me by joining a volunteer leadership development program in Israel for recent graduates. After working and traveling for a couple years, I was able to confidently identify my passion for college athletics and serving others. I called Chuck back up and he hired me. He saw potential in me and eventually made me an assistant Athletic Director.”
When Bryant first returned to Emory, she was hired to be an assistant coach for the women’s soccer and women’s tennis programs, as well as the marketing director, all while starting her master’s degree at Georgia State University. “I started the marketing program, which is what I was trained for, and worked with soccer in the fall that first year,” she remarked. She began the E-Team Rewards Program, which encouraged Emory students and community members to attend athletic events on campus with the added incentive of free food, gifts, and merchandise.
Things took an unexpected turn when the women’s tennis coach Cathy Benton left in the middle of the season and Gordon named Bryant as the interim head coach. “When I was in college, I had three tennis coaches. There was turnover for various reasons,” she remembered. “Because of that, I assumed some of the coaching roles, filling in gaps when we were searching for a coach. I was able to motivate us and make sure we were training to our potential.”
“We knew who she was and her belief in what athletics and academics is at Emory,” Gordon recalled. “It seemed like a natural progression to hire her as head coach. She certainly had all the right attributes that suggested she would get the job done and she has taken it and run with it.”
“When I first came to Emory, I was not a perfect teammate by any means. I had a lot of growing up to do in order to become a leader,” she continued. “My immaturity combined with my intense competitiveness probably caused my coaches some sleepless nights. Reflecting back now, I regret being such a challenge, but I realize that a large part of coaching is slogging through the trenches with your student-athletes to help guide them to develop into confident adults.”
The experience of having multiple coaches (Kelly Morrison, Mark Braitman, and Benton) combined with her self-awareness of her time as a student-athlete shaped Bryant’s attitude towards being a head coach. “I liked all of my coaches, learned a lot from all three, and appreciated them for believing in me and never giving up on me,” she described. “Experiencing that turnover helped me recognize the need for stability for the program to flourish and grow to what I knew the Emory program could be.”
Because she was coaching soccer, Bryant was not with the tennis team in the fall before becoming their head coach. “I knew the team, but I hadn’t worked with them. Once I took over as interim coach, I got to know the players well,” she said. “I felt like I could do something for the program. We had five seniors my first year and we wanted to make an impact despite just having started together.”
In her interim year as head coach, Bryant led the team to another UAA title and a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals. The Eagles finished third in the NCAA championship in 2001 and earned a runner-up finish in 2002. “When I took over, Emily Warburg was a freshman. When we won our first NCAA title (with Bryant as coach) in 2003, she clinched the national championship point as a senior,” she recollected. “That is full circle. I knew we were building something special.”
“It was fun to watch her success. Coaching was the perfect fit for Amy. She knows how you have to recruit at Emory,” Gordon remarked. “She has succeeded when she has had outstanding players, but also with outstanding teams without All-Americans. It is a testament to her coaching ability.”
In addition to coaching, Bryant has stayed interested in administrative aspects of Emory athletics. “Chuck kept me very involved with administrative projects, including the Woodruff PE Center multi-million dollar renovation project, which saw the addition of indoor tennis courts, recreation spaces, and team locker rooms to the building,” she explained. “Betsy Stephenson (Emory athletic director who succeeded Gordon) put me on the marketing committee tasked with developing the new logo and branding. Betsy was also very supportive of me being a female in an overwhelmingly male-dominated profession.”
When Tim Downes took over as the athletic director in 2007, Bryant was in a new phase of her life, along with two young children. “Tim came in and was very supportive of all the things I was trying to balance,” she articulated.
Two years ago, she started Locker Room Talks, which is a chance for coaches and student-athletes to talk about “hot-button” issues in college athletics. “I studied issues that have come up at other schools and wanted us to focus on integrity and ethics beyond wins and losses,” she stated. “We started the discussions in head coaches’ meetings, but now they are also part of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) meetings.
COACHING THE GREATS AND THE GREATEST PART OF COACHING
During her tenure, Bryant has coached two of the winningest student-athletes in NCAA Division III women’s tennis history, Mary Ellen Gordon and Gabrielle Clark.
Gordon, daughter of then Emory AD Chuck Gordon, won two singles NCAA singles titles and four NCAA doubles titles, two with Anusha Natarajan and two with Jolyn Taylor. In doing so, she became the first player in NCAA history, male or female, in any division to win the doubles title all four years. Her back-to-back NCAA singles and doubles championships enabled her to become the first female player in NCAA history, in any division, to accomplish that feat.
“Mary Ellen wanted to go to Pepperdine. I tried to recruit her but didn’t get very far. Then one day, out of the blue, her dad came in and said ‘Mary Ellen is coming to Emory.’” Bryant recalled. “Initially, I was very apprehensive about coaching my boss’s daughter, but Mary Ellen is a fantastic person and Chuck made it an easy relationship.”
This past fall, Mary Ellen (now) Grant was inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Women’s Tennis Hall of Fame, joining (coaching legend) Dr. Ann Lebedeff and Stanford University’s Linda Gates and Patty Fendick-McCain. Bryant was there to celebrate Gordon’s induction at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. “Billie Jean King was there to support Ann and I nervously introduced Mary Ellen in front of her, trying not to be intimidated. I focused on all of Mary Ellen’s contributions to Emory and Division III tennis culture, rather than all of her wins (which there were too many to recount),” she stated. “Mary Ellen’s speech echoed my sentiments, reflecting upon all of the lessons learned through her team experiences. It was reaffirming to see Billie Jean shaking her head in approval of all that Mary Ellen epitomizes in a collegiate athlete.”
“The Hall of Fame induction in the fall was the culmination of her career and time at Emory,” Chuck Gordon stated. “It’s always nice to see alums show up and talk about what’s important. That’s part of the UAA and Emory. It was always great to work with student-athletes like that.”
Clark won two NCAA singles titles, becoming the first African-American woman to win an NCAA singles championship at any level (Division I, II, or III). She joined Gordon in capturing multiple national singles titles and eclipsing the 100-win mark in singles and doubles, finishing with a program-record 111 doubles victories.
“I saw Gabrielle recently at (former Emory women’s tennis student-athlete and assistant coach) Jordan Wylie’s wedding. She was always a great competitor, straight arrow, and a fantastic leader,” Bryant commented. “I remember recruiting Gabbie. She knew exactly what she wanted. She wanted to go somewhere where she could get strong academics and athletics. She wanted to win and make her impact on a program. She never strayed from those goals and stays focused today as an MBA candidate at UCLA.”
Bryant has gone to a number of weddings and speaking events for, and with, her former student-athletes. “The relationships with my players are for life and are never dependent on success on or off the court. It is so much more than that,” she described. “I have gained a lot of family over the past 20 years who I genuinely want to keep up with. I feel completely connected with these individuals with whom I have spent four years in the trenches.”
The team has taken multiple international trips during Bryant’s tenure, traveling to Australia, South Africa, Thailand, and Brazil. “They remember these trips more than the wins and championships. For me, the coaching isn’t as important as building a team, building something so much bigger than yourself, and watching it grow and succeed,” she explained. “This program is an amazing thing. What else is like a tennis program that has been around for 20 years where everyone knows each other? That connection supersedes everything else.”
REFLECTIONS OF AMY BRYANT…
Dr. Mike Vienna, Emory Assistant Vice-President/Clyde Partin Sr., Director of Athletics: “Amy’s knowledge, commitment to excellence, and competitiveness have set her apart in the world of college tennis coaches. She cares deeply for her students and their growth and development as student-athletes and as people. We are fortunate to have her as a member of our team.”
Joyce Jaleel, Emory Senior Director of Athletics/Senior Woman Administrator: “What Amy has accomplished at Emory University as a student-athlete and as a coach is exceptional. Amy is a superb teacher who makes a positive impact on the lives of student-athletes and on those around her. Amy’s contributions to Emory and to the game of tennis are significant, and she is a wonderful ambassador for Emory.”
Tim Downes, Emory Director of Athletics, 2007-2015: “Change is never easy for anyone and to change in the face of unparalleled success seems counterintuitive, but Amy Bryant has outpaced everyone with her ability to evolve with every new generation of student-athletes. More importantly, Amy is a teacher – she cares so fiercely about her students and imparts on them the life lessons that come with the hard and good work needed to build a championship program.”
Barbora Krtickova, Assistant Coach/2018-19 ITA/NCAA Assistant Coach of the Year: “Amy is one of the most accomplished and respected coaches in NCAA, but more importantly, she is a smart, hard-working, and caring woman. Every day she goes above and beyond to prepare her players for what’s in front of them on the court, in the classroom, and after they graduate. I have had the privilege to work with Amy for the past five years, and her work ethic and her constant search for improvements are only two of her many great characteristics. I am honored I have had the chance to learn from her.”
Bridget Harding, 2018 Graduate/Current Graduate Assistant Coach: “Amy has built something truly incredible during her 20-year tenure at Emory. I’ve been lucky enough to work with her as both a player and a coach, and I can see now more than ever that our team is a family because of Amy. I know I speak for many Emory women’s tennis players when I say that my life would not be the same without her. With Amy at the wheel, this program will continue to do great things and build great people both on and off the court. I’m just glad I get to be a part of it. Here’s to another 20!”
Margaret (Moscato) Adler, 2004 Graduate: “Looking back, I realize how much Amy valued us as players and individuals, and how she cared about the team and our success as a team. I mostly remember how she treated me and wanted me to succeed as an individual, and not simply as a way to ensure the team got its next win, won UAAs, or made it to nationals. Still to this day, she reaches out and keeps in touch, showing that she thinks about me and my family. Amy is a coach, a colleague, and most importantly a lifelong friend.”
Megan Bern, Teammate/1997 Graduate: “Amy showed me how tennis truly can be a team sport, and how by supporting and believing in each other, we could accomplish anything. She was a fantastic doubles partner, with slashing serves and stunning volleys. I loved storming the net with her! She is the hardest worker and an inspirational leader. Amy is a true, loyal, and funny friend who has been there for all the big moments of my life. Playing tennis together at Emory forged an unbreakable bond.”
Gabrielle Clark, 2014 Graduate: “It was an honor to be coached by Amy Bryant. Through her coaching in my four years at Emory, I played my best tennis and was the best tennis player I had ever been. Additionally, off the court Amy supported me while I pursued my other interests even though at times they conflicted with tennis. I’m thankful that she was as committed to my development as a tennis player as she was to my personal and academic development. What I appreciate the most about Amy is her ability to curate a team of players that would be successful individually and together. Amy prioritizes team cohesion over the individual, which is why I’m still so close with many of teammates today. It is an amazing accomplishment to coach one program for 20 years and I look forward to following Amy and the Emory University women’s tennis program’s success in the years to come.”
Anna Fuhr, 2018 Graduate: “I feel so lucky to have had Amy as a coach, mentor, and friend. What sets her apart is how much she cares about her players and I think that’s why she’s been so successful over these last 20 years. She not only pushed me to be a better tennis player, but a better person. Whether it was in the classroom, on the court or just in life, she instilled in me and my teammates a confidence to seek out and then work for our goals unapologetically. I will carry the lessons we learned and the values she instilled in us forever.”
Madison Gordon, 2016 Graduate: “I truly cannot believe it has already been 20 years for Amy! My four years with her were truly special; besides winning two national championships and four UAA titles, Amy really helped shape me into the strong and resilient woman I am today. Her leadership style and passion for the game is unmatched and is clearly evident with how successful she has been for the last 20 years (on and off the court)!”
Mary Ellen (Gordon) Grant, 2004 Graduate: “Because Amy played there, she has created this unique bond between current students and alumni for more than 20 years. She taught us on how to be responsible humans and to be accountable to the team and not just ourselves. She was focused on building that team unit. The lessons we learned go beyond our time there and we are able to use our strengths to help others in our lives. People love to play for her. She has continually fostered this great team and fun environment. The success is almost like a by-product of being free to have fun. There is pressure to win, but it doesn’t feel like it. When you sign up to play in college, you want to win team national championships. Individual success is icing on the cake. It wasn’t until we won the team championship that we achieved what I went to college for.”
Mandy Jackson, Teammate/1995 Graduate: “My fondest memories of Amy include being her doubles partner in the early 90’s. Amy is the best and most enthusiastic tennis player I have ever met, played with, and had the privilege of being partnered with. I was genuinely not good enough to be her partner, got lucky to play with her spirit and talent, and cherished every opportunity we got together. She made very few errors and put up with all of mine! Amy was strong mentally with strategy and placement, physically with execution, and emotionally as we screamed at each other plenty (especially when I set her up for an overhead and she smashed it for a winner). As a humble, rural Wisconsin member of the elite Emory Women’s Tennis Team, I learned so much from Amy about focus, overcoming anything with zealousness, and team playing/spirit. We never let a team member play out there alone without encouragement, even in the rain, and even if the hotel experience or plane flight was much less than ideal. Regarding constant team spirit, Amy even came to our basketball games, when she could have been studying, to root us on. I reciprocated going to her/our Emory soccer games! To this day, when I get in a “go big or go home” moment, in my case treating aggressive pediatric diseases, I channel Amy’s energy to execute and succeed. Through ups and downs, wins and losses, Amy helped me and shared with me amazing memories to continue stepping up to each life challenge. Thank you, Amy! To this day, my parents ask about her, and of course I refer them to the Emory women’s tennis team legacy she has fostered.”
Daniela Lopez, 2019 Graduate: “Amy is everything you would ever want in a coach. She has a unique ability to connect with everyone on a personal level while being able to push the team to its fullest potential. Not only does she have an outstanding winning record, but the culture of the program she has created has provided me with a second family I always look forward to going back to visit. She is someone who I will always look up to and I congratulate her on 20 years!”
Lorne McManigle, 2011 Graduate: “As a coach, Amy always pushed us to be our best on and off the court. She instilled in us a loyalty to our teammates, dedication to our school, and determination to never give up. There are numerous highlights from my years with the Emory tennis team, but looking back, I am most grateful for the atmosphere that Amy built. It created a genuine camaraderie among the team that has formed into lifelong friendships. Thank you, Amy. I am proud to have played for you and our team.”
Tshema Nash, 2010 Graduate: “It was clear from when I first joined the team that Amy was the type of coach who was not only invested in our athletic accomplishments, but also in our academic and personal growth. I look back on my years on the team with fond memories on as well as off the court – holiday dinners at her home with her family, countless hours of bonding time in the van to and from matches, and traveling around the United States and abroad. Thank you, Amy!”
Anusha Natarajan, 2002 Graduate: “Amy is a terrific coach! She pushed me in very positive ways and worked with what I could contribute. She is optimistic but also honest. I also appreciated that she encouraged camaraderie despite my awkwardness as a college student. Thank you for making a college experience so much better, Amy!”
Beatrice Rosen, 2016 Graduate: “Amy is more than a tennis coach; she’s a mentor, role model, and goofball. During my four transformative years on the team, Amy taught me what it means to be a team player and find the balance between competition, intensity, fun, and laughter both on and off the court. Amy’s ‘Trust the Process’ mantra is always in the back of my mind, and I now apply it to many aspects of my adult life. My best Amy memories aren’t just on the tennis court, but also laughing in hotel rooms, locker rooms, and in the van … eating copious amounts of candy while watching Amy maneuver down sketchy mountain roads in the dark (Appalachian State!). I miss my time playing on the Emory tennis team so much because of Amy and the incredible program she’s built and maintained. I can’t imagine how many lives she’s changed over the past 20 years! Much love and congrats, you’re a #legend – Beast.”
Emily (Warburg) Sandler, 2003 Graduate: “Amy was more than a coach to me. She was a friend, a mentor, and a confidant. Even now, 16 years after I have graduated, I know I can call her and she’d be there for me in a minute. My days and hours on the tennis court at Emory were some of the best times in my life. I made lifelong friendships, learned about overcoming obstacles, and grew tremendously as a person. Amy played a major role in this, as she showed up every day and gave it everything she had. She was a true leader. She made sure the team was cohesive, that kinks were worked out and discussed, and that results of individuals were celebrated and respected by the entire team. I am now a sales leader for a team of 10 direct reports and I often think of her when I am working through issues and conflicts with my team. Amy taught me about persistence and true grit. Giving up was not an option. She helped me to be confident in the tools that I had and finding a way to win with them. She also challenged me to try new things and to approach things differently to adapt to different situations and opponents. Once I saw success with trying new things, I became even more well-rounded and my game improved… the results did as well.”
Rebecca Siegler, 2015 Graduate: “Congratulations Amy on this huge accomplishment! You have touched the lives of so many people in these last 20 years, and you continue to inspire and guide every day. I am so fortunate to have you not only as a role model, but also as a friend. You’ve built a legacy and a family at Emory, and we are lucky to have you!”