From left: Lucas Willett `26 and Karch Knoll `25 chest bump during their doubles match against Iowa Central Community College. They won their match 8-6, and the Pioneers won the matchup 5-4.
From left: Lucas Willett `26 and Karch Knoll `25 chest bump during their doubles match against Iowa Central Community College. They won their match 8-6, and the Pioneers won the matchup 5-4.
Marc Duebener

Men’s tennis opens season strong with key wins after first ever national ranking

Pioneers triumph over Augustana College and Iowa Central CC, NCAA ranks men’s tennis No. 36 nationally

The Grinnell College men’s tennis team began their spring season strong by winning their first 2 matches, beating Augustana College 9-0 and Iowa Central Community College (ICCC) 5-4. The Pioneers were also ranked number 36 earlier this year by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III rankings, the highest they have ever held. 

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, members of the team said they are aiming to win the Midwest Conference (MWC) tournament for the 20th year in a row and put up a strong performance at the NCAA Division III Men’s Tennis championships. 

According to Zack Hasenyager, head men’s tennis coach, the first two games of the season were “good early tests to see where we are at and how the off-season training went.” 

Augustana was a nationally-ranked team and ICCC beat Grinnell last year. But despite the history, the Pioneers walked away from the Sunday, Feb. 4 matchup victorious. 

Albert Bostoen `26 jumps for the ball. (Marc Duebener)

In the fall, Grinnell was down five team members who were studying abroad or participating in internships that restricted them from playing. With the team now back at full strength, Hasenyager said it was good for the team to come back together and compete. 

“Right out of the gate we had a lot more energy, a lot more preparedness, and we were a lot more confident than in years past when we’ve opened our season,” Charles Young `24 said.  

Aiden Klass `25 scored 11 points in a row on Sunday after starting off his singles match against ICCC with a score of 2-5. He said, “with the pressure of losing that set, I guess I had to lock in and I couldn’t give away any extra points, and that mentality carried me throughout the whole match.” 

With those 11 points, he won that matchup and secured Grinnell’s team win over ICCC, 5-4. 

“There was so much team support right there,” Klass said. “So after every big point there was a lot of cheering from them, and that really helped me carry myself to victory.”

Other team members echoed that sentiment, emphasizing the importance of team support and camaraderie. 

“The continuous support from the sideline and from the surrounding matches was a really big factor for us as a team,” Young said. “Our consistent support of each other was a big reason why we came together and beat those teams last year.”

Talking about their goals for the season, several team members agreed that their plans veer away from individual success and are about the team’s success as a whole. 

“We’re not the type of team that has one super talented player that’s better than the rest of us, so none of us are looking to be nationally ranked as singles players,” Klass said. 

“If guys lose it doesn’t affect the mood at all,” Karch Knoll `25 said. “We do as good a job as anybody in the country, caring more about the team than ourselves. All my goals are for the team.” 

Lucas Willett `26 said one of the reasons he chose to come to Grinnell was because of the team culture. 

the Pioneers huddle together on Feb. 3. The team’s culture has been cited by members as a key factor in their success. (Marc Duebener)

“I saw how tight-knit the friendships were and I was like, ‘that’s something I want to be a part of,’” Willett said. “And these are some fantastic human beings.” 

Hasenyager said one of their main goals for this season was to break into national rankings, but now that they have already been ranked in the preseason, their goal is to uphold that.

In addition to preparing for the MWC tournament, the team will also be competing in the Spring Tennis Fest in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina for the first time over spring break. 

And even though the team wants to do well at the NCAA tournament, Hasenyager said they must first focus on the MWC. 

“Once we’re in that position we’ll give it our best and fullest effort,” he said, “then really move on to where we feel like we belong, and then where we want to be among the teams that are competing for a national championship.” 

This past weekend, on Saturday, Feb. 10 and Sunday, Feb 11, the team played in Wisconsin at the UW-Whitewater invite against Wheaton College, Luther College and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. 

The Pioneers’ next home game is set against Morningside University on Saturday, March 2, and they will start playing against MWC opponents on Saturday, April 6 with a home match against Illinois College. 

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