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The Scarlet & Black

Men’s tennis displays dominance in Florida

Caleb Kumar ’16 practices a rally on Wednesday, April 2. Photo by Shadman Asif.

In a recent trip to Florida over spring break, the men’s tennis team heated up the courts as it continued its recent success by collecting wins in all of the seven matches they competed in. A total of 15 players competed in the annual trip, which head coach Andy Hamilton considered an opportunity to gain experience as the Midwest Conference Championships approaches.

“Experience is always good and the Florida trip gave us more experience,” he said. “It was definitely a tune-up for us.”

Although the team was scheduled to compete in eight matches in Florida, the squad was rained out of its match against Babson College. According to Hamilton, a match against Babson, a school ranked comparably with Grinnell in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, could have been a valuable opportunity.

“I tried to set up a schedule so that our top group of players was challenged and our second group of players got an opportunity to get on the court,” he said. “And I think that played out fairly well if you look at the results, though it suggests that we could have played a stronger schedule.”

Grinnell lost to both Oglethorpe University and Hope College in last year’s Florida outing, but the Pioneers were able to avenge those losses this year with 5-4 and 8-1 victories, respectively, which boosted the team’s morale, according to Tracy Johnson ’16.

Notably, in doubles, Tommy Pitcher ’17 and Elliott Czarnecki ’15 picked up a victory.

“[Oglethorpe] were one of the best teams we played this season and [that] we were able to pull it out was really nice,” Pitcher said.

Johnson added that team spirit was enhanced by early, decisive victories, such as beating the regionally ranked opponent, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 8-1.

“We were winning and were just on a roll. Last year, we had a couple of losses early on in the week and that kind of drags you down for the rest of the week,” he said. “But [this year], we were on top pretty much the whole week, which made it much more enjoyable and a lot more successful for the team.”

Caleb Kumar ’16 practices a rally on Wednesday, April 2. Photo by Shadman Asif.
Caleb Kumar ’16 practices a rally on Wednesday, April 2. Photo by Shadman Asif.

However, going undefeated in Florida did come with its fair share of challenges. Hamilton noted that in singles, Czarnecki pulled through in a close match against UW-La Crosse. After losing his first set 6-0, he went to deuce in the second set to triumph 7-5 and then closed out the third set in a turnaround tie-breaker.

“Those are little milestones that I think end up helping a player have confidence to do that same sort of feat in other matches later in the season,” Hamilton said.

Overall, the trip was not only a transition from indoor to outdoor tennis, but more importantly an opportunity for the team to play schools from around the country.

“The Florida trip is always our favorite part of the year because we get to play a lot of matches and we get to play a lot more teams than our top teams,” Johnson said. “Besides the Midwest Conference Tournament, it’s a good mid-point that shows us where we are compared to a lot of good teams around the country.”

The positive energy coming out of a successful Florida trip has been translated into more victories back home. This past weekend, the team took on Lake Forest College and Dominican College, claiming two victories while also breaking a school record for the number of wins in a season with 27.

“As a team, our confidence has really gone up and also we’ve been riding a pretty long win streak lately. That’s nice going into this weekend because we’re going to start having tougher and tougher meets against ranked opponents,” Pitcher said.

The team is also currently on a 55-match winning streak against opponents in the South Division of the Midwest Conference, a record which dates back to 2000. Hamilton has been pleased with the consistency and focus that the squad has demonstrated against conference opponents and attributes their success to the many players who have contributed to the running winning streak.

“It’s hard to rebuild a winning streak of 14 years,” Hamilton said. “One of our main goals always is to win the Midwest Conference and that’s certainly a goal this year. And so being able to keep the streak alive is important if we’re going to win.”

Looking towards the future, Hamilton hopes the team will take the experience gained from the annual trip as they advance to the upcoming Midwest Conference Championships. Within the next few weekends, the team will take on four opponents who are ranked similarly in the region, starting with Wheaton College and Elmhurst College tomorrow.

“I think our guys are pretty intentional in terms of what each match means to them now in this greater scheme of a season,” Hamilton said. “And hopefully, the spring break trip was preparation for that caliber of opponent.”

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