Men's tennis looks to serve its way to victory

By Mark Thomson

After a very successful season last year that included a playoff berth, the men’s tennis team has high expectations for this season. Merely making the playoffs is no longer the goal; the team is looking to make noise in the tournament this year. Led by three seniors, two juniors, and one sophomore, the team is battle-tested and ready to take the next step. Co-Captain Mike Coleman ’11 is hoping that the team’s experience will pay big dividends come playoff time. “We’re a very mature team, and that’ll really help,” Coleman said. “We’re a lot better this year and ready to do more.”Max Edwards ’13, the lone sophomore in the starting lineup, is similarly optimistic for this season. “We want to go as far as we can go. Last year was a great year. The way our conference is set up, once you get towards the top, it’s hard to make the next step. But it’s definitely doable. Everyone in the starting lineup has been there before.”

“I think we’re a lot better now because we now know we can win. We’re developing our own swagger and gaining that competitive edge,” added Coleman.

In addition to the team’s experience, chemistry is going to be an asset for the Scots. Chris Fowler ’12 described the team as very “close knit, especially the top 6 or 7 players. We all know each other’s games and help each other out. Even in an individual sport like tennis, teamwork helps a lot. In close matches, it helps to have people on your side.”

Coleman echoed these sentiments that supportive teammates would make a difference this year. “It’s definitely a factor having teammates cheering you on,” Coleman said. “Even though it’s an individual sport, we are all a part of each match. Even though I’m #1 singles, I can be a part of #6 singles through support. There will be matches this year where having guys on your team that support you will help us pull victories out. We genuinely want each other to win.”

The team knows that they are going to need to rely on one another to do well. “Last year, we had a lot of 5-4 matches so we’ve learned that every match counts,” Edwards said. “We learned the never-give-up mentality. Against St. Thomas last year in the playoffs, things weren’t looking good, but we pulled it out. We know that we’re not going to give up.”

Despite the fact that five out of the starting six players are upperclassmen, the team is missing some additional talent and experience. The team suffered two significant setbacks with the graduation of Titus Levy ’10 and the loss of Evan Elderbrock ’12 to study abroad. “Tennis is a high brow sport, but sometimes things can get heated. Evan wouldn’t let anyone push us around. He’s kind of the enforcer on the team. He’s definitely a loss,” Fowler said. “And Titus was a really solid captain; losing him will be tough. He helped bring the team together.”

Even though these losses will undoubtedly hurt, Coleman still thinks the “heart of the team” from last year’s playoff run is there. Every player in the starting lineup this year with the exception of Lewis Wilcox ’12 played in last year’s opening round victory against #3 seeded St. Thomas. “Even though we’re missing two key players, we’re still returning a lot of talent and are going to be a tough team to beat,” he said.

“We’re still in a great position to be in from last year, so hopefully we can capitalize on the moment,” added Edwards.

The team has started off the season with consecutive 9-0 wins over Northwestern and Martin Luther. However, the team is still looking for more. Speaking about the Northwestern match, Fowler described the performance as “rusty.” Clearly not satisfied with two matches where he won in straight sets, Fowler is looking for individual and teamwide improvement. “We almost lost two of the doubles matches. When you take a long time off of playing, your mental toughness goes down. We’ll hopefully regain the toughness by playing more matches.”

It speaks volumes about the team’s confidence when they can be so nonchalant about such decisive victories. Both Coleman and Edwards were similarly unimpressed by the results of the Northwestern match. Coleman described the match as “typical;” Edwards described it as “pretty solid”.

Hopefully the team can take this resolve and use it during conference play when the road won’t be as easy. Although beating teams like Northwestern and Martin Luther is expected, the teams in the MIAC are going to be much more difficult. Traditionally one of the strongest Division III leagues in the country, the MIAC should be as talented as ever at the top of the conference.

“St. Thomas got a DI transfer and their best player is getting better so they’ll be really good,” Fowler said. “Carleton got a top-50 recruit, which is amazing for a Division III school. And Gustavus got a really good player who will play three. On top of that, Carleton and Gustavus didn’t lose anyone. All three of these teams are going to be tough to beat.”

The team is going to have to dig deep and find a way to beat the St. Thomases, Carletons, and Gustavuses of the league. It may be daunting to the casual observer that these teams have reloaded since last year. However, the team isn’t allowing the difficulty of the conference to overwhelm it.

“We just need to do all we can,” Edwards said. “There are going to be certain matches, especially in this conference, where we’re going to be overmatched. But as long as we play as hard as we can, that’s all we can do. The top teams are going to be good, but if we play our best, we can definitely beat them.