From left: Aidan Klass 25 and Lucas Willett 26 beat theur Lake Forest College opponents 8-6. The Pioneers won the entire game 8-1, only giving up a single match.
From left: Aidan Klass ’25 and Lucas Willett 26 beat theur Lake Forest College opponents 8-6. The Pioneers won the entire game 8-1, only giving up a single match.
Marc Duebener

Men’s tennis winds up for MWC tournament

As the Midwest Conference (MWC) tournament begins, the Grinnell College men’s tennis team is looking to extend their season-long success. Ranked 31st nationally and 9th in the central region by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), they currently hold win-loss ratios of 4-0 in conference games and 19-3 overall. The team say they hope their consistency and fortitude will push them into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III championships and beyond.

“The expectations are definitely that we’re going to win the Midwest Conference,” said head men’s tennis coach Zack Hasenyager. “Our men’s team is in a nice spot to enter the conference tournament as the number one seed.”

From left: Aidan Klass ’25 and Lucas Willett 26 beat theur Lake Forest College opponents 8-6. The Pioneers won the entire game 8-1, only giving up a single match. (Meilynn Smith)

He added that he had tried to create “very challenging” schedules this season: “We’re going to play teams that are better than us, that are going to really test us.”

Aiden Klass `25 said the opponents they had encountered were solid, and “hungry” to win. Wilder Cooke `25 recounted that he had not expected to win against Luther College back in February — the team had just lost two regulars from their roster. However, they narrowly pulled through, winning 5-4.

If the team wins the MWC this year, it will be the 20th time in a row, guaranteeing their 17th appearance at the NCAA. Charles Yung `24 calls this possibility “exciting.”

“I’ve seen a much better performance in my own practice, my own focus,” he said. In a particularly tough week, he had managed to win a singles match against Bethel, though he lost to Macalester. However, he said, “If I didn’t have confidence in my abilities, I wouldn’t have been in a position to have a chance to win either of those matches.”

“We found a lot of success being very present in the moment and not trying to overstep the gun.”

Both the players and Hasenyager agreed that emphasising mental resilience and consistency throughout their training was their greatest strength, with Cooke saying that tennis was “more mental” of a game than many sports requiring great focus throughout the entire season.

“When we’re playing the types of teams that we have on the schedule, the talent, in many ways, is going to be equal,” explained Hasenyager. “We can create that mental advantage and be the more confident team that truly believes things that are going to work out for us.”

Sam Rudenberg `25 added to this, stressing that consistency was key, not just general improvement. “You have to treat everyone, no matter if you think you are better or worse, with an equal amount of respect,” he said. “If they come in there, nothing to lose … things can start to get tight.” 

The players added that the team’s energy has also been integral to their performance. “Even if you’re not playing a match, you cheer and give good energy to everyone on the court,” said Rudenberg. 

Klass highlighted that one struggle they had so far was ensuring this energy was genuine. Cooke said that while they were a “very noisy” team, yelling “for the sake of it” would not necessarily equate to more positivity or stronger plays.

Another aspect they are working on, according to Hasenyager, is efficiency — a quality first serve, good court positioning, the ability to finish off points — especially as the team looks towards the NCAA.

“We’ve started to see ourselves as a team that is deserving of being nationally ranked … that we deserve to be in this conversation,” said Hasenyager. 

“Playing against the top 20 teams in the country, we’re not the favourites,” he added. “We’re going to have to come up with some upset wins, take the doubles match out of the hands of our opponents, and be in total control.”

This season will be Yung’s last as a Pioneer, as he will graduate this May. He said that the team would simply make sure they continue applying the strategies that have brought them all their successes thus far into the rest of their matches.

“We’re going to take things one at a time — every match that gets us to that championship, we’re going to give our best,” he said. 

“It’s been very special to be part of this group of student athletes that put so much effort in what they do,” Yung said. “I think that’s also been a big factor in why we win. We enjoy what we do a lot.”

The Grinnell College men’s tennis team will face Lawrence University, Ripon College and Coe College this weekend in the 2024 Midwest Conference Tournament.

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