Men’s tennis extends 19-year MWC win streak


Contributed by Ted Schultz

Sam Rudenberg `25 (above) and Henry Bridgers (not pictured) beat Cornell College in a doubles match 8-0 at the March 5 match. Grinnell won 9-0.

Nadia Langley, Editor in Chief

Only 10 meters of open court separated Henry Bridgers `24 from his opponent. Across the net, Central College’s Matthew Den Adel `23 loomed at a staggering 6 feet 9 inches tall, perhaps intimidating at first glance, but Bridgers’ confidence did not waver. The Grinnell College men’s tennis team did not enter their match against Central College as the underdog, and Bridgers only confirmed this with a decisive 6-1, 6-2 win, closing the match out in 2 sets. 

Deuce Daniel `26 (above) won his singles match against Central College 6-0 6-2 on March 4. Grinnell won the match 9-0. (Contributed by Ted Schultz)

Over the weekend of March 4-5, the men’s tennis team faced off against Central College and Cornell College, the latter being their first conference match of the season. They led sweeping victories in both the team’s singles and doubles matches. 

Notable wins of the weekend included Leo Esztergomi `24 and Aiden Klass `25 in their 8-1 doubles match against Central College and Wilder Cooke `25 with a 6-0, 6-0 closeout in his singles match against Central in the Charles Benson Bear `39 Recreation and Athletic Center Field House. Against Cornell College, the Pioneers took the lead with wins from Lucas Willett `26 in a 6-0, 6-0 singles victory and an 8-0 doubles win for Sam Rudenberg `25 and Bridgers.

When asked about the matches, Klass and Rudenberg commended the other’s prowess on the court. “Sam was ripping forehands,” Klass said of his teammate’s gameplay against Cornell. Not to be outdone, Rudenberg described Klass’ serves with admiration — “I was sitting there trying to return serves and warmup, and I just couldn’t touch anything,” Rudenberg said, referring to the pre-match volleys between the two. 

Grinnell approached both matches, against Cornell and Central, eager to defend their crown after previously beating both teams last season. The match against Cornell College was especially critical as it marked their 173rd victory in the Midwest Conference winning streak that they have maintained since 2004. 

While this streak does not mean they have won every individual singles or doubles match against a conference foe in the last 19 years, it means the team is winning every Midwest Conference match-up.

“It was definitely one of those things that I came in feeling pressure about, it being my second year,” said Zack Hasenyager, head coach of the men’s tennis team. “I didn’t want to ruin that streak, and thankfully, we haven’t done that yet.”

Beyond continuing to lead the pack in their conference, Hasenyager said one of his main goals this season is for the team to advance within the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III rankings. How the team performs in their matches lined up for spring break will be a good indication for how close they are to achieving this goal. 

Rudenberg, Cooke and Klass said they have a pretty clear idea what will carry their team through to the national championships, and it has to do with the depth of their bench. As Cooke explained, the skill of the Grinnell players who are not starting often excels past that of their opponents’ benches. “Most teams, I would say, that we’re losing to — we’re probably going to beat them if we play 12 on 12 instead of 6 on 6,” Cooke said.

Besides the depth of talent in their lineup, the team’s confidence and the players’ support of one another plays an integral role in ensuring their future success, said Rudenberg. 

Cooke admitted he played a bit too tight at the last match, holding back the full power of his swings in favor of hitting the ball softly and waiting for his opponent to miss. Cooke explained that more than anything, he was playing a mental game that comes down to having confidence in one’s own skill. 

“For reference,” Klass cut in, “he can probably hit the ball harder than anyone else on the team, but he won’t do it.” When Cooke realized the impact that confidence could have on his gameplay, he said it was a game changer. 

I say to my coach, ‘what I just discovered, confidence is everything about tennis,’ and of course, to that he said, ‘I’ve been telling you this for years.’

— Wilder Cooke `25

“I say to my coach, ‘what I just discovered, confidence is everything about tennis,’ and of course, to that he said, ‘I’ve been telling you this for years,’” said Cooke.

Looking forward to their match against tthe University of Wisconsin (UW)-Eau Claire which they played this past Saturday, March 11, the players noted it would be a bit more challenging than what they have faced against recent competitors. With the same regional ranking, UW-Eau Claire lost to Grinnell last season, but the match was on Grinnell’s home turf. “I think they’re going to have a little bit of an extra incentive to beat us,” Bridgers said.

“We know going into it that it’s going to come down to a few points here or there in deciding the ultimate winner,” said Hasenyager. 

The results of the March 11 match against UW-Eau Claire can be found on the Grinnell College Athletics website. Grinnell College’s next match will be in California against the University of Redlands on March 25.