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For the past three decades, Dr. George Dieffenbach has been the sole name affiliated with Pitt's tennis program.
His legacy has seen numerous feats, including this past season when he achieved his 500th career victory in a 6-1 win over Bucknell on Feb. 4, 2012. Dieffenbach concluded his tenure with the men's program with a 189-157 record from 1976-95 and has collected another 318 wins at the helm of the women's team since 1981.
With 318 victories, Dieffenbach is Pitt's all-time winningest coach on the women's side. He has also led the Panthers to 24 Big East Championship berths. Most recently he guided Pitt to its highest-ever finish in the conference tournament, after clinching a first round victory over Cincinnati (4-3) during the 2008-09 season. The Panthers finished seventh overall that year.
That season was also the finale to an exciting career by Panther great Kristy Borza. Borza, now an assistant coach, set the school record in just about every category during her career, including: single-season singles wins (28), career singles wins (91), career doubles wins (85) and combined wins (176). She also ranks second in most doubles wins in a season (23). Borza joined her sister, Nikki Borza (1999-2003) as a member of the University's Varsity Walk in 2009.
Two years later, Dieffenbach guided another women's tennis legend, Elizabeth Adams, to the top of the record books. Adams concluded her career in 2011 with the program's second-most combined wins (138), as well as 68 career doubles win, which ties Fran Davis for second place on the all-time career doubles victories.
In 2006-07, Dieffenbach guided two Panthers - Annie Davies and Carlie Smith - to their 100th career win, which were the first additions to the short list of 100-Victory Club members since 2003-05 seasons where one member of each graduating class accomplished that feat. The Panthers also recorded their 300th program win that season.
Dieffenbach began his days as a Panther in 1972 when he joined the men's team as a freshman student-athlete. As a student-athlete at Pitt, Dieffenbach accumulated a competitive 32-13 singles record, which placed him in a three-way tie for 11th place for most singles wins. He also registered the school's 17th best all-time doubles record, finishing 25-19. After graduation, Dieffenbach continued to be active as an athlete and tennis player. Dieffenbach achieved USTA rankings at the district (Allegheny Mountain), sectional (Middle States) and national levels.
After receiving his degree from Pitt in 1975, Dieffenbach became the head coach of the men's tennis team. In 1980, he began assisting with the women's program, and in 1981 he became the head coach for both the men's and women's teams.
Dieffenbach coached the Panther men to a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Eight Conference in 1980, which was also the first year he assisted with the women's team and earned his master's degree in secondary natural science education. The men's team finished tied for second in the Big East in 1985.
He earned his doctorate in science education in 1988. That same year both the men's and women's teams had winning seasons and his wife gave birth to their first child, Sarah. During the 1991-92 season, both tennis teams again produced winning records and his second child, George Miles II, was born. In 1996 Dieffenbach received the Allegheny Mountain District (AMD) Coach of the Year Award.
During his time at Pitt, Dieffenbach has succeeded in graduating almost all of his athletes and believes that the growth and experience of a student-athlete should not be limited to the confines of campus.
"Competitive tennis can be a training device from which student-athletes can gain valuable experience from their work ethic on the court and apply these principles to their work ethic in the classroom," he says.
In line with those principles, the Panthers have earned the University's overall team top GPA award the past two seasons. Additionally, Kimmy Borza and Jennifer Larimore recorded 4.0s, while Elizabeth Adams, Melissa Bostwick, Mihn Evans, Jocelyn Lu and Karma Parbhu were celebrated for boasting a GPA higher than a 3.5 during the 2011 Scholar-Athlete Breakfast in February.
Dieffenbach believes that in addition to the educational experience that student-athletes have, they also need to be able to enjoy their time spent in college and competitive athletics.
"College should be an enjoyable experience," says Dieffenbach. "Student-athletes should work hard, pursue their degree, and get an education, and I believe that playing tennis can be an important part of that enjoyable experience."
Dieffenbach has laid a solid foundation for the Panther tennis program over the past three decades. It is a foundation that has been based on a simple philosophy that he has been using since his own days as a Pitt athlete.
He also believes that being a Pitt tennis player goes beyond the court and into the community. Each year the team focuses on community service including the Panther Paws Program, and a number of team members have been involved with visiting patients in Pittsburgh's Children's Hospital.
Dieffenbach believes that each student athlete should realize how fortunate they are in life, school and in their sport. In 2006, the team established a fundraiser in the name of the NIKE Foundation during the Pitt-Duquesne dual match in the spring. This foundation is set up to help young girls in third world countries rise out of poverty. The team sent donations from spectators so that the NIKE Foundation could use education to train these young girls so that they may someday better support their families and children with hopes of rising above poverty.
"All of our student-athletes learn about life in their major and on the court," he says. "Both tennis and academics give them that competitive edge they'll need for the rest of their lives."
When he isn't dedicating his time to the Pitt women's team, Dieffenbach keeps himself busy in other aspects of the tennis world. He is a certified tennis professional with the USPTA and recently retired after spending 16 summers as the head tennis pro at Wildwood Golf Club in Allison Park, Pa. During the offseason, he has also spent many years teaching tennis in Jamaica and Aruba.
Dieffenbach has had the philosophy that people should make an attempt to be active and have healthy habits. He has tried to practice this in his own life through competitive tennis and running. Dieffenbach began his competitive running career at age 24 and continues to this day. Dieffenbach feels fortunate to still be competing.
Since 1978 he has finished 96 races ranging from 1500 meters to the marathon (26.2 miles). Among the races finished, Dieffenbach has crossed the finish line of 31 marathons, including a personal best 3:08.50 in 1979. He has qualified for and completed six Boston Marathons. In 2005, he qualified and competed in the 1500 and 5000 meter races during the U.S. Senior Olympics held in Pittsburgh. That same year, at the age of 52, he also recorded a 5:24.8 time in the Pittsylvania mile, ranking him 16th in his age group in the nation. He remains an active member of the West Penn Track Club.
Dieffenbach enjoys competing, but gains even greater satisfaction in helping his team as well as his own children to reach their academic and athletic goals. Due to his excellence in coaching, running and his tennis career, Dieffenbach was inducted into the West Branch Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame on Nov. 6, 2005.
In October of 2006 during Pitt's homecoming celebration, Dieffenbach was honored by the Pitt Varsity Letter Club as one of its six awardees of distinction.
Dieffenbach currently resides in Fox Chapel. He has two children, Sarah, who was a tennis letterwinner and a 2011 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and George Miles II, a sophomore offensive lineman on the Penn State football team.