Men's, women's tennis expecting…berths

By William Kennedy

After playing its first conference matches last week, Macalester’s tennis program is looking to revise its idea of success this year. For both the men’s and the women’s teams, head coach Jason Muhl said, “A successful season means making it to the conference tournament.”
Part of this redefinition emerged from a summer rule change stipulating that only the top six MIAC men’s and women’s teams—instead of the entire league—will qualify for the year-end tournament. The other component in these shifting aspirations has come from within the teams themselves. Whereas a single MIAC win could be seen as a triumph for either squad in years past, both teams are saying that they will not settle for low expectations in 2007.
Women
A lack of depth has hampered Mac women’s tennis over the past several years.
“This year,” Captain Jenna Harris ’08 said of her team, “we have an opportunity to win those matches that will decide if we can beat a team.”
Last Saturday her statement proved true as the women’s team, battling injury and illness, defeated St. Catherine’s College (5-4) for the first time in over seven years.
The victory was remarkable not only in that it severed the streak, but that it matched the Scots MIAC win total from last year.
“It was a huge victory,” Co-captain Anna Peschel ’08 said. “Mac tennis has been an underdog in the MIAC for a long time, but I think we can get some key wins.”

Peschel secured the first of those wins for Mac, as she closed out the second set of her number four singles match 6-1 to break a 4-4 tie between the teams. The Scots, who beat their neighborhood rivals despite forfeiting a match due to an injury, gave much of the credit to the team’s versatility.
“We have so many players right at the same level,” Harris said.

Saturday’s victory was preceded by a tough Friday loss to St. Olaf (6-3). Despite their new depth and victories in two out of three doubles matches, the Scots dropped three singles matches in tie-breakers and ultimately conceded the loss.
Harris, however, said the team was undeterred by the loss.
“All the matches we lost wer really close,” she said. “With more confidence, we can beat them later in the season.”

The next shot Mac would get to play St. Olaf would be in the conference tournament, and to do that, they will have to contend with conference powerhouses like nationally ranked Gustavus Adolphus College and St. Benedicts.
After two important conference matches, however, the women and their coach seem to think that conference is well within their reach.

“If this weekend is any indication,” Muhl said, “this season is going to be pretty successful.

Men
While women’s tennis can be described as an underdog to make it to conference, men’s tennis could be aptly compared to the Detroit Tigers. Whether or not they will be the 2007 Detroit Tigers that stunned the world by making the playoffs or the Tiger’s of the previous ten years who did exactly as poorly as everyone expected remains to be seen.
Regardless, the men’s team says that they have the talent and the determination to play competitively against MIAC teams.
“This is the toughest team we’ve had in four years,” Captain Tobin Kaufman-Osborn ’07 said.
With their eyes set on rising from the bottom half of the conference and a potential post-season berth Kaufman-Osborn added, “with the talent we’ve got, we have a better chance of getting to the middle of the conference than we have in a long time.”

The Scots will have a long way to go from last year when the team finished a winless year in the conference basement.

However, Transfer Brad Goldstein ’08, echoed his captain’s sentiments with a promise. “We’re not going to finish last in the conference,” he said. “We’re going to win some games.”

Those wins are yet to come as the Scots fell to Gustavus (0-9), a team perennially ranked in the nation’s top three tennis teams, and to an improved St. Olaf (2-7), a squad that finished seventh in the MIAC last year.
“There’s room for improvement,” Kaufman-Osborn said after the weekend matches. “It was good to go out and play [challenging] competition.”
With two younger players and a transfer in their starting lineup, Mac still has some “gelling” to do according to Goldstein. But, he added, “the team chemistry is very strong and we had courageous efforts [over the weekend.]”

In order to seriously contend for the MIAC post-season, the Scots will need to beat teams of a similar caliber to St. Olaf, and that may be out of reach at present. Taking one thing at a time, however, the team is looking ahead to its next match tomorrow, against St. Mary’s, where they will try to pick up their first team win since the 2005 season.