As the Macalester College Men’s and Women’s Tennis teams gear up for a Spring Break trip to Orlando — which will see them play four matches in the space of five days — they are mirror images of each other. Both have had promising starts to the season, beating the teams they should have beaten and playing competitively with highly-ranked competition. The men currently sit at 2-3 (0-1 MIAC) with victories over Martin Luther College and Ripon College and losses at the hands of #17 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, #23 Gustavus Adolphus College and the College of St. Scholastica. Meanwhile, the women are 3-2 (0-2 MIAC), with victories over Martin Luther, Ripon and the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and losses to #36 University of St. Thomas and #35 Gustavus.
On the women’s team, a youthful group has integrated well together. Although the team has no seniors, the first years have added a significant amount of talent to the team, with Jen Koehler ’20 providing a boost at both #1 singles and doubles. Alongside Koehler, Della Brown ’19, Lily Stein ’18, Jessica Ilc ’19 and Claire Buehler ’20 have made strong starts to the season on the singles and doubles sides of the ball.
“I am pleased with the growth of the team,” Brown said. “There is such a clear difference in skill level and dedication this year than there was last year.”
That growth has been on full display in the team’s strong start to the season. The victories over Martin Luther, Ripon and Stout were comprehensive, coming by 8-1, 9-0 and 9-0 margins respectively. While the losses to the Tommies and Gustavus were not close, those are two of the strongest teams in the MIAC, and are nationally ranked for a reason. In spite of losing, there were Scots who put in strong performances, notably Stein and Ilc.
With the opportunity to play some difficult matches in Orlando next week, the team has a great chance to record more impressive wins and continue growing as a unit when they play Gettysburg College, Saint Ambrose University, Franklin and Marshall University and the University of Mobile (Ala.). After their brief escape from the Minnesota winter, the Scots will head back north to get ready for conference showdowns against Saint Mary’s University (Minn.) and Concordia College (Minn.).
According to Brown, the players are excited for all that is to come. “We are off to Orlando next week to play some pretty tough matches so I am really looking forward to that. I am looking forward to playing some more conference matches, Bethel and St. Ben’s in particular.”
Meanwhile, in spite of their current record, the men have had a strong start to the season. Although Gustavus — probably the strongest team in the MIAC — defeated them 9-0, the Scots’ losses against Scholastica and Whitewater were close as they fell 3-6 on both occasions. Against Scholastica, Josh Doyle ’18 and Ben Wilson ’18 notched singles victories while Wilson and Peter Willenborg ’19 were victorious in doubles. When they played Whitewater, Doyle repeated the trick with another victory at #1 singles.
Aidan Tirpack ’18 said that, given how early it is in the season, it’s not easy to assess how things are going thus far. However, he seemed pleased and proud of the effort which the team has put forth so far. “We began our season dominating our first two matches, followed by a loss to St. Scholastica 6-3,” he said. “This past weekend we played two nationally ranked teams, UW-Whitewater and Gustavus Adolphus College. We ended up losing to Whitewater 6-3, which is actually a phenomenal score considering they are ranked 17th in the country.”
Adding to the slightly uneven start to the season were injuries to Doyle, the team’s anchor at #1 singles, who wasn’t able to make his season debut until the match against Scholastica. In his absence, Hardt Bergmann ’17 and Wilson stepped up their team leadership while Tirpack ascended to the #1 singles mantle and handily beat Martin Luther and Ripon. The team has seen improvement across the board, from Bergmann, who has gone from not playing singles last season to owning the #3 spot in the rotation, to Travis Beach ’19 building off a strong fall season and Matt Yang ’19 returning from the torn meniscus which kept him out for the fall season.
“I’m super happy with the amount of improvement I’ve seen in everybody’s game since last year,” Bergmann said. “Two of our best players graduated last year, which we knew would make things a little tougher for us going forward. I think we have risen to that challenge. I’m also pleased with how quickly this year’s [first years] have integrated with the team.”
The four first years — Michael Lockhart ’20, Alessandro Mauceri ’20, Matt Stoner ’20 and Isaac Hoehn ’20 — took no time gelling with their teammates and adjusting to the rigors of college tennis, and all four have picked up wins this spring. Lockhart in particular has shone, earning the eighth spot on the team’s roster for its impending trip to Orlando, as well as praise from Doyle.
“[He’s] been very motivational on the sidelines and, when he has been called up for matches himself, has always performed very well and we really see that he cares a lot about the team,” he said.
If both teams continue playing and improving the way that they have for the first part of this season, there will be exciting times ahead for Macalester men’s and women’s tennis, starting next week in the March sunshine of Orlando. Both teams’ spring adventures will start on March 12 with duals against Gettysburg College.