Danielle Steinberg isn't afraid of a little hard work. Which is a good thing, given the monumental challenge Steinberg is facing as the new coach of the Colorado women's tennis team.
When she was just 21-years old, Steinberg left her native Israel to pursue a collegiate tennis career at Arizona. As that career unfolded, Steinberg saw an opportunity to continue indulging in her passion for the game as a coach, a path that eventually led her to Kansas State. At Kansas State, Steinberg steadily built a winner out of a dormant program, leading the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years this past spring.
That effort landed Steinberg the ITA Central Region Coach of the Year award, as well as a new job in Boulder. On Thursday, Steinberg toured her new work home at CU's Champions Center, well aware it will take an equally impressive turnaround effort for the Buffaloes' new coach to lift her new team to similar heights as what she oversaw at KSU.
"Maybe the team was a little underachieving in the past, but usually coaches like the challenge and this is something you can get excited about," Steinberg said. "Before accepting the position you have to be really honest with yourself. Can you really do this again? Because it is a lot of work to turn around a program, and you've really got to embrace the grind. But that's pretty much who I am. I'm a blue collar, grinding person, and that's what I want my players to be about."
Steinberg replaces Nicole Kenneally, who led the CU program for 19 seasons and helped guide the Buffs through the transition from the Big 12 Conference to the Pac-12. The Pac-12 hasn't exactly been a welcoming new home for the Buffs over the past eight years.
CU has not posted a winning record within its conference since 2009 and has never won more than two games in a season within the Pac-12. CU went winless during its final season in the Big 12 in 2011 and has done so two more times since joining the Pac-12, which is considered one of the top women's tennis leagues in the nation. The gap between the Buffs and the top competition in the Pac-12 is significantly bigger in women's tennis than any other sport, with CU well behind its rivals in terms of both tradition and facilities. UCLA, for example, boasts a sprawling tennis complex that originally was built for the 1984 Olympics.
"We wanted to become more competitive in our conference, and I think we've got the perfect person to do that," CU athletic director Rick George said. "She's got great experience having played at Arizona, and good coaching experience at McNeese State and Kansas State. She was our top choice and we're very fortunate that she's here.
"We think the hire is very important for us because we want to elevate our program. We think the tennis community in Boulder and Denver will get behind it and support Danielle and her efforts. We wanted to let the tennis community know as well that we're committed to making sure our tennis program can compete at a high level. I think in time Danielle will get us there."
Steinberg said she has kept busy in recent days working the phone to connect with her players and assure them bigger things are on the horizon. She also said she hopes to finalize her staff within a few weeks.
"Obviously the Pac-12 is extremely challenging, but at the same time I think that also will allow us to attract the top players as well," Steinberg said. "I think there's a ton of positives here. You're not going to find a lot of top athletic programs that are in a nice city like Boulder. It all has to start somewhere. I'm not going to say it's going to be easy. It's going to be a long process. But if you bring in good players, player after player, they're going to build the base."