With a winning start to their seasons, both the men’s and women’s tennis teams are excited and aiming for the conference playoffs. Both teams are starting their seasons with rankings in the last spot to advance to the conference playoffs (sixth and fifth for the women and men, respectively) but will have to play hard to maintain those highly contested qualifying positions.
Each fall, the teams have a month-long individual competitive season. Although the women did not place particularly well, it offered valuable experience. “It’s good practice playing against better teams, so the first years know what they are up against in the MIAC,” said Gabby Queenan ’15.
The men’s side started off with impressive performances by Brian Utz ’16 and Josh Doyle ’18, both of whom advanced to the round of 16 in a singles competition featuring 128 players, something Mac Tennis hasn’t accomplished since years before Head Coach Jason Muhl took over 11 years ago. “That was really encouraging and a good momentum builder for the whole team,” Utz said.
Last year, both teams fell just short of qualifying. This season, they look forward to all of the really competitive matches, hoping to turn the losses of past years into wins. For the men, this includes clashes with St. John’s, St. Thomas and Bethel. “We really enjoy playing St. Thomas. Both teams get fired up and it’s not a typical tennis match; it gets loud and is always close,” Coach Muhl said.
For the women, St. Ben’s is going to be an important game. “It’s going to be huge for us and will make or break the playoffs,” Queenan said.
In order to meet these goals, Coach Muhl wants 100 percent effort at every practice. “It’s easy to say but not to do. Players and coaches alike need to work together to inspire each other,” Coach Muhl said.
One way the teams are committing to their goals is by placing a greater emphasis on conditioning. “This year in particular, Coach Muhl has recognized our potential as a team, so he’s pushing us to be more competitive as athletes, get in better shape, and having more directed practices,” Queenan said.
It is also very important in tennis to maintain mental toughness during matches, and that was often what set good teams apart from bad ones. “A lot of the time when you see two people on the court, one of them doesn’t look that much better than the other. It’s more of a mental thing, just having a lot of confidence and being focussed every point. You have to play loose and aggressive and make smart choices on the court,” Utz said.
Last weekend’s matches against Martin Luther College and North Central University were easy wins for Mac, with both the men and women finishing 9-0. This means that they won each of the three doubles matches and all six singles. “Last year we played some of the best teams right away and it was really hard to bounce back mentally from that,” said
Katelyn Glenna ’15. The teams will try to build off of this confidence as the season progresses.
The all-important MIAC matches begin February 27, with both teams playing St. Olaf to start the conference season. St. Olaf was one of the top three teams in the MIAC last year, so it is sure to be a challenge.
Both sides have young teams, with first years making notable contributions. For the women, Maegan O’Herin ’18 has been playing #1 doubles, showing her experience playing doubles in high school, and #4 singles. Lily Stein ’18 also contributes in the lineup at #3 doubles and #5 singles and stands out for her consistency.
On the men’s side, Doyle and Aidan Tirpack ’18 are expected to have a large impact on the team.
Coach Muhl is beginning to see real progress in his rebuilding of the tennis program. With highly ranked recruits and motivated athletes, he is excited for the season. “I’m lucky I have such an amazing group of young people to work with. They make it fun and have great consistency,” Coach Muhl said.
“We’re all very motivated and really enjoy being out there, and it makes it a lot more enjoyable when you’re out there with a good group of guys. We all push each other to get better,” Utz said.