Leaves a 35-Year Marquette
Tennis Coaching Legacy
“Driving through campus down Wisconsin Avenue in a light blue van with the side door open and windows down yelling that we were North Star conference champions…”
Memories of Laura Daly Fivecoat, a conference tennis champ at Marquette University under the coaching direction of Jody Bronson. This memory is among many that stand out for the Marquette women’s tennis team over the past thirty-five years of Coach Jody Bronson at the helm. Victory over Notre Dame with a score of 5-4 in January of 1989 while boasting a record of 19-2 that year. 1988-89 North Star Conference Coach of the Year. Lady Warriors. Golden Eagles. Pictionary games, Red Roof Inn stays. Numerous trips to Wendy’s. Top National ranking of 25 in 1998-99.
Milwaukee Tennis Classic Sportsmanship winners (Elisa Penalvo, Gillian and Rachel Hush, Rocío Díaz, Ana Pimienta). Milwaukee Tennis Classic doubles champions (Callen Smith, Christina Ruiz, Rachel Hush, Diana Tokar, Paula Tomos Sanchez). Marquette Hall of Fame players under Coach Bronson: Elisa Penalvo, Ana Fernández, and Barb VanLieshout. McCahill Award winner, Meg Mulcahy Ekmark.Years and years of players, thirty-five years to be exact.
Coach Jody Bronson carved and chiseled away at the many Marquette women that took to the courts perfecting their games and coaching and counseling in life’s big game. The longest tenured coach in Marquette University athletic history, coach Jody Bronson brought the Marquette tennis program to 440 victories in total.
Coach Jody Bronson began playing the sport of tennis at nine years old in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bronson graduated from Nicolet High School and attended the University of South Florida where she played on the women’s tennis team as a walk-on. After leaving the University of South Florida, Jody was a beloved professional tennis instructor at a number of Milwaukee tennis clubs (North Shore, LeClub, Brynwood Country Club and Milwaukee Country Club).
In the early 1980s Chas Mulcahy, the Milwaukee Tennis Classic co-founder, Marquette alumnus and former member of the Marquette men’s tennis team, contacted Jody to see if she would be interested in coaching at Marquette University. In 1985, Bronson accepted the position.
In 1985 the MU tennis program had ventured into Division I territory. According to Bronson, it took over twenty years for the program to become fully funded. The women’s program did not receive the eight allotted scholarships for fifteen to twenty years of her tenure at Marquette University. Other battles that ensued during her career was the ability to hold practice in the afternoons. For a good amount of years, the women’s tennis team practiced at nine or ten o’clock in the evenings. Jody would fight Student Affairs claiming, “We are different than the regular student body. We athletes are doing twice as much as what the normal student body is doing.” Eventually, the battle was won and practice moved to the afternoon at the Helfaer Tennis Stadium and Recreation Center on Marquette’s campus.
Bronson guided the women’s tennis team through four different collegiate conference changes. First, Marquette in the early 1980s belonged to North Star Conference and then Midwest Collegiate Conference where Bronson was named Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Midwest Region Coach of the Year in 1999. In the third conference that Jody coached, the Marquette women’s team won the Conference USA championship. Elisa Penalvo and Ana Fernández were named to the All-Decade team in Conference USA. In the final conference, the Big East, Bronson would retire. Several of her players achieved Big East accolades, such as Natalija Popovic as Rookie of the Year, Milica Novakovic named to second team all-conference and Fleur Eggink as first and second team all-conference, Silvia Ambrosio Freshman of the Year and Ana Pimienta who was named to All-Conference. Overall, Marquette women’s tennis fought their way to the conference championship final nine times and came out as victors three times. During coach Bronson’s tenure, her teams made three trips to the big dance, the NCAAs. Several individuals on her team also competed in the NCAAs over time. When speaking about her players, Bronson says, “I had great kids in the program, and that was one of the reasons that I did it for so long. I worked with great people and great students who loved Marquette and changed my life. It has had a huge impact on how I see people and understand differences with so many lessons learned. I came across backgrounds of all sorts, economic and ethnic. I have enjoyed the relationships with those players who I am in contact with today.”
Among some of Bronson’s highlights are the win over Notre Dame in 1989 and the successes of individual players such as Joanna Bauza, Elisa Penalvo and Ana Fernández who made it to the NCAAs in singles and doubles. Both Penalvo and Fernández also won regional championships. Jody was instrumental in developing Fernández’ top spin backhand when Ana usually favored slicing most of her shots. Bronson reveled in seeing her players be told to do something better with their game and then go out there and do the work, ultimately achieving a higher level than before in their games.
In the 1988-1989 season, the Marquette women’s team posted the programs’ best winning percentage at 90.5%. Out of the thirty-five seasons for Bronson, twenty-five have been winning ones. What has brought about so many winning campaigns? According to Bronson, “hope to get kids to buy in and know that if they want to be successful, they have to be willing to do the work. With the student-athletes willing to do the work and by putting forth the effort, it helps build the program. When they see the successes before them, they want to make sure they continue to keep the program moving in the right direction. I always tried to recruit the right kids. I hoped that they would always come in and be able to develop leadership skills and lead the younger players when they get older.”
As retirement became inevitable for Bronson, there was much reflection on her relationship with Marquette University. “I am extremely grateful that Marquette gave me the opportunity and am fully aware that I did not have a college degree and that they took a chance on me. I tried to build a top program, always tried to do the right thing and represent Marquette University with the highest standard and wanted the student-athletes to do that as well. I believe in the university and what it stands for and have had players understand how important that is and how important it is to represent the school they play for in their years. It is unbelievably a great place, and Marquette does a lot of things really well. It is an all-around great experience, academic, social and athletic.” Current athletic director of Marquette University Bill Scholl remarks, “I want to thank Jody on behalf of the entire University for her 35 years of service to Marquette. She has been a tremendous ambassador for the department and her dedication to the program has, and will continue to, leave a lasting impact.” Former athletic director from 1987-2007, Bill Cords states, “Jody was our best coach when I got there and was one of the best coaches when I left.” Cords attended as many matches as he could as athletic director and notes two matches in particular. “During the time when two of the Mulcahy girls was playing, Notre Dame came to town highly ranked in the country. The Notre Dame coach came in and asked if they get the match started a little early and get it over with before it were to get dark. It fired up Jody, and they beat Notre Dame that day. Jody was very competitive and it carried over to the team. I watched a match in February of 1994 at Marquette against Ohio State. They had eight scholarships, and we were operating on one. The match came down to the last doubles match. The score of the match was 4-4 with our half scholarship player and a walk-on playing for Marquette. The walk-on made some of the most unbelievable shots, and after the victory of that doubles team, we ended up upsetting Ohio State. By the time we got six scholarships my second year there, she had won the North Star Conference championship. When Jody got the number of scholarships she wanted, she won the Midwest Conference championship and the Conference USA. Jody had a calmness about her but a toughness. What she was able to do with the kids she had was impressive. The relationships she had with her players were outstanding. She was well-respected in the profession. She was the best.” Steve Rodecap, Director of Marquette Tennis, comments, “I have been fortunate to work alongside Jody the past 17 years and have seen her pour her heart and soul into the program, while transforming the lives of so many young women. She consistently represented the department and the University in a first-class manner… Although her daily touch on the program will be greatly missed, she will always be a part of the Marquette Tennis family.”
Speaking of family, many of Bronson’s players formed the Marquette family. Among them, several have gone on from Marquette and have lived good, professional lives. Some of them attribute their successes in life to having been a member of the Marquette women’s tennis team under the direction of Coach Bronson. “I remember Jody just being there for all of us. She was a mother of three to her own children but really wore so many hats as the Marquette Tennis Coach, one being like a mom to all of us college players, “ says Kristin Moehlich, member of the team from 1988-1992. She goes on to say, “Jody meant business and wanted to challenge each athlete.
She worked us hard and this was the time when she didn’t have an assistant coach, so she did it all.
She fed the balls, ran the practices, drove the van to our destinations and was always there for us no matter what. I was very fortunate to play tennis for Marquette and have Jody Bronson as my coach. She loved all of us and made it a family affair…Three words that describe Jody: dedicated, compassionate, fair.” Fellow team member, Laura Daly Fivecoat, fondly remembers Jody drinking her Diet Coke at practices and visiting the Wendy’s salad bar while the rest of the team headed for the pasta bar. All the “Spaz ball and lots of conditioning…It paid off!…[Jody] influenced, inspired and shaped so many young women that have come through Marquette’s tennis program during her thirty-five years of coaching. I feel honored and privileged that I was one of those young women. [Jody] challenged me to be the best version of myself and encouraged me to work hard every time I stepped on the tennis court. That mentality has continued with me today and in all aspects of my life.”
NCAA qualifier, Joanna Bauza, recalls many positive moments with Coach Bronson. She writes,
“So many words I have for Jody, but I do not have enough space to tell you how important Jody has been in my life. During her retirement, I met so many more people that Jody has left her footprint on as well.
My story alone, I will share with many and hold very close to my heart for the rest of my life.
When I first flew to Milwaukee, I was received with so much love that I did not feel the cold weather in October or felt far from my island. Jody knew how to lock me into this new challenge and adventure together. By November 1992, I decided to commit to Marquette.
The first day of practice, I quickly realized we were not as good as we could be. I thought with a coach like her we can make it anywhere, even NCAA. And so, our passion to win, to get the best out of every player and find the best player anywhere around the world started. First, Ana came and then Elisa and the rest is history. During my four years, Jody taught me on and off the court. Jody was a coach, a long-distance mother, a partner, a trail blazer, an example, a leader and most importantly, a friend.
Years later, after more than two decades, I carry her with me. From supporting my husband (since the beginning), my children, my parents and MY LIFE. I am grateful to have landed on her team and grateful she always has been there for me even when I may not have noticed. The number one reason I believe in giving back to Marquette is because all that Jody has given me, her team and Marquette. Thank you, Jody!”
The family cultivated by Marquette women’s tennis continues with a name synonymous with Marquette athletics: the Mulcahy family. The Mulcahy family definitely made their mark on Marquette tennis. All three daughters of Judy and Chas Mulcahy, Milwaukee Tennis Classic co-founder, and former men’s tennis player for Marquette University, played on the teams around the time that Bronson coached. From the eldest to the youngest, memories abound. Mary Mulcahy Muth class of 1986 remarks, “I have fond memories of Coach Jody Bronson. She always brought a warm smile and enthusiasm to the Marquette tennis team. Although I was injured my senior year and was disappointed I was not able to play tennis, I have observed Jody preside over many very impressive women’s teams for many years. Coach Bronson was an excellent role model for her players. She had a fun personality, tremendous knowledge of the game of tennis, and was able to get along with all types of people. She was highly competitive but also wanted her players to succeed in their academics.”
Continuing with the Mulcahy memories, Meg Mulcahy Ekmark recalls, “I was Jody’s first recruit for MU Tennis! Jody was instrumental in teaching me how to succeed on the tennis court with great coaching advice. She taught me a killer slice return of serve that enabled me to storm the net and pick off shots that had popped up with killer volleys. She also gave us great advice off the court as well.
I have many fond memories of our van rides to and from our meets. Jody was also a lot of fun as a coach. We played many pranks on her (and on our other teammates) and she was always a good sport. We would hang signs off of our van that said ‘Honk if you think our coach is sexy!’ and she could never understand why people were constantly honking at her! She honestly looks as young as she did when she first started coaching us 30+ years ago…She has been a great coach and friend for the last 30+ years.”
The final Mulcahy memory comes from the youngest of the clan, Beth Mulcahy Elardo, member of the Marquette women’s team from 1988-1992. She notes, “Jody was a great coach, but, she was also a mentor to everyone on the team. Jody wanted all of us to play our best tennis and be outstanding representatives of Marquette on and off the tennis court.
Jody was always there to listen to our collegiate troubles and was a shoulder to cry on when life got tough. Jody stressed the importance of academics and never made us pick between being an athlete or being a student… I graduated from Marquette University over 20 years ago and I still regularly stay in touch with Jody. I cannot say enough good things about Jody, my Marquette University teammates and my educational experience at Marquette University.
From the Marquette University tennis family to her own family, Jody Bronson loved the court of sport, and that love of sport trickled down into the rest of her family. Bronson’s sister, Chriss Schaefer, was a tennis teaching professional in Chicago for forty years and played several national tournaments throughout the years, earning a bunch of gold balls. Jody’s sister, who competed until the age of 50+, encouraged Jody to play a national tournament in Minneapolis one year. Losing in the consolation finals in the 35 year-old age group, Bronson recalled playing eight matches in three days. She said, “I could hardly walk after that tournament.” Bronson’s husband, Wally, was a local Milwaukee tennis professional at LeClub sports club for countless years and shared the love of tennis with Jody throughout their life together. That love of sport between the two of them was one of the gifts that they have imparted to their three children, Corey, Lindsay and Tanner. At one point in time, father Wally was playing in an over 30 basketball league, and the children would tag along and watch. When Wally would rotate out, he would work with the kids on basketball moves.
In 1989 the Bronsons put an addition on their house in Glendale, adding a basketball court that was a little larger than a normal-sized half court. From this the Bronson’s three children took up the love of the sport of basketball, practicing day after day which would earn all three scholarships to college. Eventually, following in the footsteps of their coaching parents, all three became basketball coaches at various institutions, Corey at Homestead High School in Mequon, Wisconsin, Lindsay at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin and Tanner at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The love of sport, all in the family. Now in retirement Jody Bronson plans on traveling a bit and spending time with hers and Wally’s seven grandchildren, five of which are involved with some sort of sport. Staying in touch with recruits and former players and painting lines on the basketball court will also keep Bronson busy in the meantime.
This former Wisconsin Wightman Cup coach, local area tennis professional, and leader of the Marquette women’s team for over three decades is regarded so highly by so many people in the Milwaukee area and beyond for her expertise and dedication to the sport of tennis, for the solid relationships that she developed over the years with her players, and for playing a positive role in the lives of people at Marquette University and in the Milwaukee community.
Former program editor and executive vice-president of the Milwaukee Tennis Classic, Mary Fran Cahill, remarks, “In more than 15 years as the program editor for the Milwaukee Tennis Classic, I have to say that Jody was never anything less than a totally dedicated coach, who produced many outstanding women’s tennis teams for Marquette. While covering the tournaments over those years, it was obvious that she loved her team members and they loved her. She strives to bring out the best in each of them and, from what I observed, she succeeded. I wish Jody nothing but joy as she continues her life’s journey. She is a totally outstanding human being, who has served as a great role model for the young women she has coached at MU. I know she will find new ways to inspire others to become their best selves.”
The Milwaukee Tennis Classic commends and congratulates Jody Bronson in her most notable career as women’s tennis coach for thirty-five years at Marquette University.
Author Dr. Sarah J. Cyganiak, a professor of modern languages at Carthage College, was the 1997 MTC women’s doubles champion and is a member of the MTC board of directors.