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The Scarlet & Black

Men’s tennis conquers MWC once again

Emilio Gomez ’15 prepares for next week’s NCAA Regionals Tournament. Photo by Shadman Asif.

The men’s tennis team clinched its 11th consecutive Midwest Conference title after putting up yet another dominating performance last Friday, April 25 in Madison, Wis. The Pioneers beat Lake Forest College 5-0 in the semifinals and then defeated Monmouth College 5-2 to improve their overall record to 31-5.

“It’s always kind of a relief to win,” said Co-captain Emilio Gomez ’15. “I always exhale. This program has built strong tradition over the past 11 years.”

After winning every Conference title in the past 10 years, this year’s team faced high expectations and pressure heading into last week’s tournament. But the players handled it well and came through to bring the Conference trophy back home.

“[When] you’re on a big streak like that, you don’t want to lose,” said Cole Miller ’17. “There’s a lot of pressure on you to win and people expect you to win, but we were just in the moment—win your match and that’s your job.”

Emilio Gomez ’15 prepares for next week’s NCAA Regionals Tournament. Photo by Shadman Asif.
Emilio Gomez ’15 prepares for next week’s NCAA Regionals Tournament. Photo by Shadman Asif.

Grinnell blanketed Lake Forest early with three decisive doubles victories. The winning pairs were Elliot Czarnecki ’15 and Tommy Pitcher ’17, Tracy Johnson ’16 and Gomez, and C.J. Ray ’16 and Miller. The domination continued as Johnson and Bryson Cale ’16 picked up wins in singles matches to beat the Foresters 5-0 and advance to the final round.

The Pioneers did not have a fast start when they faced Monmouth, however. Only the tandem of Ray and Miller won its doubles contest and the squad began singles competition down 2-1.

“I felt a lot of pressure,” Gomez admitted. “Monmouth had the potential to beat us. Who knows, if it [was] played in a different day, different circumstance, they may well have.”

Monmouth then attempted to break Grinnell’s Conference winning streak by playing mind games as well. 

“The reason why I was concerned going 1-2 in doubles is that Monmouth decided to flip their number one and number two players in the lineup,” said head coach Andy Hamilton ’85. “It’s legal. We knew that that was a ploy on the coach’s part to try to give them a competitive advantage at number one and number two singles.”

But even mind games could not stop the Pioneers last Friday as they sailed through all the singles contests to triumph 5-2. The singles victors were Gomez, Pitcher, Johnson and Ray. 

“That’s actually exactly what happened when we played them in the regular season,” Miller said. “C.J. and I won at three doubles and our two doubles and one doubles lost, but we ended up winning the match. Those teams are strong teams, but we beat them pretty solidly before so I wasn’t too nervous.”

The victory over Monmouth also marked a tremendous 105-game winning streak within the Midwest Conference, which has lasted since 2002. According to Hamilton, experience and game planning were two reasons Grinnell prevailed.

“An important part of sports psychology is when you’ve had that experience, which we had earlier in the season, you’re going to be able to handle it even better the next time,” Hamilton said. “The other part is we have an excellent assistant coach in Lawrence Eyre. The ability to develop game plans after having played them the first time and even enhancing those game plans by watching the Monmouth match in their semifinal match versus Carroll [University] really was advantegous to the Grinnell players.”

The Pioneers also acknowledged that playing against Central Region’s eighth-ranked Coe College one week prior to the Conference Tournament helped them to prepare for last weekend’s string of matches.

“You can always learn from losing,” Miller said. “It makes you rethink parts of the game you need to work on—gives you a bigger drive to work harder and get better. So even though we lost pretty badly, it motivated us more to win conference.”

With its MWC crown in the trophy case, Grinnell will now prepare for the NCAA Regional Tournament, which will occur on May 9. The full schedule and location have not been released yet, as many teams’ seasons are not over.

In the meantime, players and coaches will have ample time to rest, think and prepare for the bigger stage.

“I expect that we’re going to be [ranked] number four, number five or number six in the regionals,” Hamilton said. “What that means is we’re probably going to play in our first round match a team in which we’re very competitive with.”

As Grinnell prepares for its season finale, the Pioneers also cannot help but wonder how improved they will be next season. All members will return next year and the team will also look to add strong first-years.

“We challenged our players this year, saying, ‘Look, you juniors are only halfway through your career. Maybe your best half of your career is ahead of you,’” Hamilton said. “I think there’s two things that [are] very clear. One, they’ve started their second half of their career very well. Two, and more importantly, our juniors made improvement. If we can make another improvement, this team will be scary and that’s our hope.”

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