In the Spring of 2022, Val Villucci announced that she would be retiring as head coach of the University of Rhode Island women’s tennis team after 25 years at the helm across three different stints.
This created something that URI had not seen from the tennis program in many years: a vacancy.
Fast forward to August, where Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn hired the newest member of the Rhode Island Athletic Department. Enter Jonas Brobeck, the Swedish tennis guru who has recorded a decorated coaching career in the United States since his graduation from the University of North Carolina Asheville in 2012, where he was a star on the courts.
Brobeck was an uncharacteristically late hire for Rhode Island, only signing his contract a few weeks before the start of the season.
“He really got thrown into this whole situation and it has gone so well,” fifth-year captain Nadia Rajan said. “He was left to do a lot and he only got on campus three weeks ago and he had never really been to Rhode Island. The amount that he has done is insane and he has definitely gotten us ready for our first tournament this weekend.”
Although Brobeck is new to Rhode Island, he is not new to the United States, despite growing up as a native of Stockholm, Sweden. Brobeck was a four-year member of the men’s tennis team at the UNC Asheville where he was a key player. The Swedish sensation recorded 36 singles wins over his collegiate career and played number one doubles for all four years.
To capture his impact on UNC Asheville is a difficult task, but the school’s athletics website did the best job they could, describing Brobeck as “one of the best Bulldog doubles players in school history”.
UNC Asheville was also the place where Brobeck figured out that coaching is what he wanted to do after he was finished playing.
“Coming over to UNC Asheville, during those years the two coaches I had [were], Lise Gregory and Tom Hand, they were phenomenal people and phenomenal coaches,” Brobeck said. “There was something about college tennis that clicked with me. It was the individual sport of tennis; yet you play for a team now, a university, a community, something bigger than yourself. So in that process, my years at UNC Asheville, I kind of understood that this was something that I wanted to pursue.”
Following his graduation, Brobeck stayed at UNC Asheville for a season as an assistant coach. Subsequently, Brobeck had two other assistant coaching jobs at Morehead State University from 2013-2015 and Northwestern State University from 2018-2020.
He was promoted to head coach at Northwestern State where he remained until 2023. Through all of these different experiences in the coaching world, Brobeck has acquired a wide arsenal of skills to apply to his newest position in the Ocean State.
“I think that with every program and every coach that I work with or under or together with, I’ve learned a lot,” Brobeck said. “We have to have that growth mindset, and we always have to learn and we always have to develop because otherwise we fall behind in our profession. I think every year you learn and with every person that you work with you learn something that you can implement in your program.”
One of Brobeck’s better assets, though, is his ability as a recruiter. In his time at Northwestern State, he recorded top-25 recruiting classes for mid-major programs in 2021 and 2023. Although even with all of his success, Brobeck detailed that one of the things he is best at is actually quite simple.
“I think like anything else, you just have to be who you are,” Brobeck said. “I think the important thing is to find players early and then build that relationship with them. Just like coaching too, create that relationship, create that trust with a player, with the family and the supporting team to the athlete.”
Brobeck also stressed the importance of recruiting for not only the athlete, but the person as well.
“You look at every single detail and turn every single stone,” Brobeck said. “So you know that the student athlete is not just a good tennis player, but they are good people and that they find the mold of the program that you want and you want to build. As much as we need great tennis players at URI we need great human beings first and foremost and we need great team players that have the values that we are trying to create here in our culture.”
Looking forward into his first year with the team, Brobeck sees the 2023-24 season as a time to set a solid base and build off of it, rather than rush and fail to build a program like he knows he can.
“Ultimately [this year is] all going to be focused on development, it’s all going to be focused on the process about the hard work and each and every day just get better and develop,” Brobeck said. “My philosophy is that if we can take care of us, If we can prepare the way we need to, we have to put ourselves in a good position to be successful. Then we’re going to sprinkle in competing in good tournaments so we get great matches.”
Brobeck and the women’s tennis team will look to set their solid base and build off of it very soon, and hope to become better athletes and people along the way.