Younes Limam’s road from Morocco to mentoring All-ACC stars

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Head coach Younes Limam stood with his hands behind his back as rookie Miyuka Kimoto lost her first set to Louisville’s Rhea Verma 6-2 in Matchup No. 2 on April 1.

As Kimoto dejectedly walked towards the bench, Limam put his hand on her shoulder and said a few words of encouragement. His gaze was stern, but his tone was gentle. Limam continued to stand stoically as Kimoto opened the second set with a thunderous shot to her opponent’s right flank.

Kimoto won the second set in a close fight and in the third and final set she went up early and eventually secured the win. During Kimoto’s comeback, Limam stayed by her side, occasionally turning his head to check on his other players. Whenever he noticed Kimoto tilting her head down or showing the slightest frustration, Limam was quick to support her and motivate Kimoto to play at the level she was capable of.

“She handled it like a champ,” he said.

The end of this year’s regular season marks Limam’s eighth season at Syracuse. After his playing career at Drury University, he was on the road for a few years before securing a job as an assistant coach at Rice University in 2009. After a string of successful seasons in Houston, including a surprise NCAA Sweet 16 tournament run, Limam has found his home with the orange.

Limam’s relationship with tennis began in his hometown of Mohammedia, Morocco, where he was a promising junior tennis player on the Moroccan national team. In his late teens, Limam was approached by then-Dury University head coach and fellow Moroccan Amine Boustani. Limam was one of the first Moroccans he recruited because of their proximity, Boustani said.

“He lived about three or four hundred meters from my house where I grew up,” Boustani said. “His father worked for the same company as my father. … I knew Younes pretty well.”

After arriving at Drury in 2000, Limam played an important role in transforming the Panthers’ program into a Division II powerhouse. Limam played at Drury for four years and produced an impressive 87-17 individual record. Boustani said he was amazed by Limam’s ability to end his matches with ease.

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“We called him ‘Flipper,'” joked Boustani. “He’s always done such a good job of winning his games quickly and when he changed sides after a game won he took care of business by turning scorecards the whole time.”

“Flipper” ended his playing career with the second most wins in Drury history, but Boustani said he was always impressed by the way Limam performed himself.

After his time at Drury, Limam began coaching for two seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Central Oklahoma, followed by a couple more as an assistant coach at the University of Texas at Arlington. His work for both programs impressed Rice head coach Elizabeth Schmidt, who hired him as an assistant coach in 2009.

While Limam was in Houston, Schmidt said his positive attitude and tireless work ethic played a big part in the Owls’ success from 2010-2014.

“The college season has so many ups and downs, but he was always able to turn things around during a practice session or on a game day,” Schmidt said.

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In 2012, after being named Intercollegiate Tennis Association Assistant Coach of the Year in the Texas area a year earlier, Limam was an integral part of a Rice roster that made a surprise run to the Sweet 16 at the NCAA tournament. After losing the Conference Finals at home, the Owls received an at-large offer and traveled to the University of Mississippi for their first tournament game. At Ole Miss, they upset the University of Illinois in the first round before beating the hosts.

This year, the Syracuse roster is made up only of international students and includes players from five different countries. Kimoto, one of two Japanese players Limam recently recruited, said he took the time to travel halfway across the world to her small town of Oita to offer her a spot on the list.

“He’s always very friendly and very energetic,” Kimoto said. “He’s the reason I chose Syracuse.”

During his tenure at Syracuse, Limam has won four NCAA tournament spots with Orange and was named 2019 ITA Northeast Region Coach of the Year. He helped Syracuse to its first-ever NCAA tournament win in 2016 and has developed six All-ACC team members.

“He didn’t build a one-year miracle. He built a tennis powerhouse in a tough conference with a team that was at the bottom of the conference when he took over,” said Schmidt.

“I know him. He’s not done yet,” Boustani said. “Eventually he’ll find a way to get to the top.”

Contact Tyler: [email protected]

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