Michael Sowter Brings Experience and Perspective to Fordham Women’s Tennis


Sowter hopes to carry the relationships established with the men over to the women’s program. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Michael Sowter has always been engrossed by tennis. Born in Perth, Australia, Sowter came to the United States with a racquet in hand, becoming a junior college All-American at Alabama’s Wallace State Community College.

Marist College soon became his new home, where he scooped up a pair of all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference honors and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Tennis is still a key part of Sowter’s life, though he stands on the sidelines instead of the playing surface. For the past six years, his home has been at Fordham Men’s Tennis. Now, it will be with the women’s team.

On Sept. 13, Fordham Athletics announced that Sowter was making the move to the women’s side, receiving a promotion as not only the head Women’s Tennis coach, but as director of tennis. With the role, in addition to leading the women, Sowter will oversee the men’s program that has meant so much to him throughout his time in the Bronx.

During his tenure with the men that began back in 2014, Sowter did not see a losing season with an overall record of 69–38. Most recently, they earned the sixth seed in the 2021 Atlantic 10 Championship, the highest in program history. However, for Sowter, the memories did not just come on the court, but off it.

“I had a tremendous group of guys. It’s a very bittersweet move,” he said. And while he still considers himself a “volunteer assistant” to the team, those fond memories stem from the fact that Sowter recruited all of the players beneath him and built a relationship with them that stretched well beyond the hardcourt’s boundaries.

It was a product of the uphill battle the program has had to fight since they lack the scholarship money that other schools in the Atlantic 10 have to offer. But, even in his part-time role, Sowter embraced that challenge. “Obviously we were never going to be able to recruit bluechip players without the scholarship money, so it was about … taking guys that maybe weren’t on a lot of schools’ lists and just getting to know them better as individuals and finding ways to make them better tennis players.”

Sowter did just that, fostering tremendous growth for the men’s tennis program, but also and perhaps more importantly, preparing his athletes for a life after their sport. Fordham remained an Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic Team during all six years of his tenure, while also producing a 3.77 team GPA for the 2020-21 school year, the highest of any Fordham team for the second consecutive year.

That perspective took Sowter some time to find and certainly was not there in his early coaching days that began the moment he left college. But now with two kids, Sowter sees the bigger picture. “I think a lot of young coaches, in all sports, are really trying to make names for themselves, and you kind of get lost in the fact that you really want to get to know these people.”

Sowter will have a new opportunity to do that in the full-time role with Fordham Women’s Tennis, a team that is both losing some key talent, namely graduated A-10 standout Arina Taluyenko, but will lean on the returning seniors Valeriya Deminova, Nicole Li and Genevieve Quenville, along with two impact transfers as well.

“It’s a whole new experience … The talent is tremendous. The sky is the limit with regards to the women’s team … I think if we can put the pieces together and we can get everyone working together, I think there’s a really good chance we could make some waves in the conference this year.”

The first step in that journey comes in an abbreviated fall season, which Sowter sees as more of an opportunity to understand his players and build relationships rather than overreact to the results, especially because of the lost time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Women’s Tennis was hit particularly hard, not only losing its season, but having a number of players remain home. Sowter is hopeful they can begin to build some consistency with this weekend’s Northeast Championships in West Point, New York.

“It’s all about getting reps and just getting back to business, getting back to a somewhat normal schedule like we had pre-COVID and getting back to just putting the work into each day. There’s no secret recipe. You just have to come in and work hard and play with a little passion and play with a purpose and just keep that going down from there.”

Even though the expectations may be a bit higher, Sowter has not lost sight of the fundamentals that have been so important to him at Fordham. “I’m excited to get to work with them and try and get them to develop as tennis players and people in the same way the men did. I think we’ve done a good job in the past of developing a good culture both on the court and in the classroom and I hope to carry that forward into the women.”

Sowter takes particular pride in that Fordham culture. He has coached at Hofstra University, his alma mater Marist College and before coming to the Bronx, spent over half a decade leading both the men’s and women’s teams at NJIT, all to great success.However, there is something different about Fordham, and it comes down to the players.

“One of the things I’ve always loved about the Fordham men’s team is they were always competing because they were so passionate about Fordham and they so wanted to make Fordham do well,” he said. Now, he will begin to “change the culture” and leave that same imprint on the women.

“I’m really excited to bring in players that I think will bleed maroon and do whatever it takes to make Fordham successful,” he said, “but also go beyond the x’s and o’s and get to know them as people and hopefully make sure they’re successful in the classroom and beyond.”

It is another example of the perspective that became so clear in our conversation. “And that’s the key, right? We only have a finite amount of time on the court so let’s have a great time while we’re here and prepare you for when you’re not here.”

Sowter shared one example that made it exceptionally clear that hope is being fulfilled. “And one of the biggest things I take pride in is when I took this women’s job, all four seniors that graduated last year all called me up and wished me congratulations,” he said.

“The wins are great but when they’re talking about inviting me to future weddings and, you know, just being a part of their lives beyond Fordham, that’s really important to me.” It is no coincidence that Sowter invited his college coach to his wedding and is still in contact with him 20 years later. 

“This is the first team that I’ve coached where I’ve really felt that — well, especially here at Fordham it was really that environment —  it was more like family than it was just a team trying to win a tournament.”

Coach Sowter will certainly pursue those tournament victories and have a tremendous ability to do it with Fordham Women’s Tennis, but never without the understanding that his role is much more important than just that.