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Witcher Leaves CSUN to Take Over Tennis Program at Las Vegas

Times Staff Writer

Changing jobs is often a gamble--especially when you’ve been as successful at the job you’re leaving as tennis coach Craig Witcher has been at Cal State Northridge.

But Witcher is getting used to gambling successfully.

“Last week at a convention for athletic directors in Las Vegas, I was waiting to meet (CSUN A.D.) Bob Hiegert at Caesar’s Palace,” Witcher said. “He was late, so I bought $20 worth of silver dollars to pass the time.

“I was playing two slot machines. In about 15 minutes I was down to my last dollar. I switched to the other machine one last time and hit a $1,000 jackpot.”

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So don’t blame him for wanting to take one more chance in Las Vegas.

Witcher, 29, on Thursday accepted the post of director of tennis at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He led the Northridge men to a 38-33 record during the past two years, including a ninth-place Division II finish this season.

At UNLV, he will coach the men’s and women’s teams.

“There hasn’t been a women’s program at Las Vegas for five years, so much of my time will be devoted to establishing one,” Witcher said. “I’ll hire an assistant who can work with either men or women.”

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Another challenge will be turning a declining Las Vegas men’s program into a Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. contender. UNLV finished sixth in the eight-team Division I conference the past two years after finishing third in 1983.

“My goal is to turn Las Vegas into one of the top 20 tennis teams in the nation,” Witcher said. “The community is behind the school, and I expect a lot of support for the tennis program.

“There is no USC or UCLA to compete with. UNLV is the only show in town.”

Witcher also is expected to slip in a new set of players.

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“There are four returners, but if my recruiting goes as expected, only one (Scott Warner, ranked 89th in the nation) will make the team,” he said. “The caliber of players I am trying to get is higher than at CSUN, so I won’t be robbing my old school.”

Maybe not. But Northridge wasn’t weaker than UNLV this season. The Matadors defeated the Rebels. Witcher’s gamble lies in abandoning an established program for one experiencing a decline.

“It’s part of my nature to seek--and meet--a challenge,” he said.

When he meets with his athletic director, however, it will no longer be at Caesar’s Palace.

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“I had my one good time,” Witcher said. “And I can thank Bob Hiegert for being late enough for me to win a grand. But when you work in Las Vegas, you’ve got to stay out of the casinos.”

This time, it’s the UNLV tennis program that hopes it got lucky.


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