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“Taking care of business”: Men’s tennis team claims 18th straight Midwest Conference title

Cory Hall
Bowen Mince `22 awaits an opponents return during the Midwest Conference championship doubles match. Photo contributed by Ted Schultz.

For the past seventeen years, the Grinnell men’s tennis team has dominated its conference competition with consecutive team wins. The weekend of April 22, they continued their streak, delivering strong team, singles and doubles performances at the Midwest Conference tournament in Middleton, Wisconsin. 

The tournament began on Friday with the team competition. Each player’s record determines their opponent, with the team’s players ranked one through six in singles and one through three in doubles. The players then compete against opponents of the same ranking on other teams to vie for the title.

Every Grinnell player was ranked number one among their seed, except for Bowen Mince `22 who, ranked number two in the top seed, looked to beat the top-ranked number one player from Lake Forest who he had yet to beat this season.

“I wanted to see if I could bounce back and sort of get my revenge in the conference tournament and individual tournament,” said Mince.

Both singles and doubles cruised to an easy victory against Cornell College in the team semifinals.  

“There wasn’t too much drama. It was pretty much people going out and kind of taking care of business,” said Henry Bridgers `24. 

The team’s victory in finals against Lake Forest College was not quite so assured, but they eventually came out on top. Of the team’s three doubles pairs, number two duo Jonah Gilmore `24 and Bridgers and number three duo Leo Esztergomi `24 and Karch Knoll `25 won in the finals. The top-ranked duo, Mince and Sam Rudenberg `25, came in second.

“We get that victory each year, usually, but we definitely still need to go out, represent our team and not come off as arrogant because the other teams don’t really like us,” said Bridgers. “We definitely kind of have a target on our backs, I would say, but I think we’re all really excited about being on this team and being able to uphold that legacy we have of going out and winning conference.”

In the singles team competition, Grinnell’s number two through six players Esztergomi, Gilmore, Knoll, Rudenberg and Wilder Cooke `25 all came out on top after final matches against Lake Forest College. Only top-ranked player Mince was not leading when the victory was called, edged out by the top-ranked Lake Forest competitor.

“I would be looking on all the other courts and see how my teammates’ matches are going because I was like, ‘Okay, we’re going to win if they win,’” said Mince. “I was paying more attention to their matches than I was paying attention to my own. That definitely hurt for sure, I guess, with my focus.”

On Saturday, the team saw similar sweeping success during the singles competition, with every player winning their rank but Mince, who lost to the same Lake Forest player as Friday. 

“My general goal was to say, I’m going to try to outlast this guy, so to speak. I wanted to play very long points, not have the points be three or four balls long, because if I could do that, I thought that I could take him,” said Mince. 

“I go up to my coach and he’s like ‘You did everything I told you to do, you did really well, it’s just he’s a really good player.’ It definitely sucked for sure because my first year I won the number one singles draw and now my fourth year I lose it, like this is the third time I’ve lost to this guy this season.” 

The team finished up on Sunday with another day of wins in doubles competition, with Bridgers and Gilmore beating all other second-ranked players and Knoll and Esztergomi coming out victorious among the number threes. In the top spot, Mince and Rudenberg fell, yet again, to the Lake Forest player and his doubles partner.

This was the first full conference final for the team since spring 2019, making it the first appearance at a regular conference final for all team members but Mince, who is the only senior year on the team.

“Last year, we only got to play conference competition, so we didn’t get to play any out-of-conference competition. We also just overall didn’t get many matches. This year is definitely kind of a better year, I feel a lot better about being able to play more,” said Bridgers. 

“I feel closer with the team and I feel like we’ve kind of figured out what works well for us, we figured out our lineup better. So I definitely feel more confident this year compared to last year.”

The men’s tennis team will play in the regional portion of the NCAA DIII men’s tennis competition the weekend of May 13.

“I really want to have fun, not be too nervous, do the best I can to prepare and whatever happens happens,” said Mince. “I have learned over the years that it’s not just about the tennis, what happens on the court, it’s a lot more about what happens off the court.”

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