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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Young Men’s Tennis team starts strong

Fans of last year’s team might not easily recognize this year’s Grinnell men’s tennis team. Back are Head Coach Andy Hamilton ’85, now in his 17th season as head coach, Captain Michael Cole ’12 and third-years Ishan Bhadkamkar, Daniel Nellis and Colin Johnson. Beyond that, none of the remaining varsity players competed for the Pioneers last season.

“It’s a very different dynamic from last year when I was an underclassman and we had five seniors,” Bhadkamkar said.

Daniel Nellis ’13 and Emilio Gomez ’15 warm up during practice on Wednesday, Feb. 29. Photograph by Joey Brown

Last year’s class featured Juan Carlos Perez ’11, who won four singles and four doubles MWC championships, as well as All-American honors, and Dmitriy Glumov ’11, who registered 70 doubles wins in three seasons at Grinnell.

“Between the two of them, they used to give us almost three guaranteed points a match,” Bhadkamkar said.

But unlike last year’s squad, this group is not based on dominant players.

“We don’t have any superstars,” Eric Ritter ’12 said.

Their strength lies in their numbers, spearheaded by a large and talented freshman class.

“This is, perhaps, the best recruiting class that Grinnell has ever had in tennis. It’s definitely the deepest, and the talent is pretty strong,” Hamilton said.

The Pioneers hope to use this depth as a tool to score points and win matches.

“This team differs from the teams that Juan [Perez] and Dimi [Glumov] were on, in that points in the scorebook will probably come from the middle and bottom of our lineup,” Hamilton said.

“Our strength is our depth,” Bhadkamkar said.

However, do not discount the top of the lineup.

No. 2 singles player Ritter said, “Elliott [Czarnecki ’15, No. 1 singles] and me and Ben [Charney ’15], or whoever’s playing No. 3, are going to have to step up and have some big wins, too.”

This shift in the means of winning has left the players unfazed.

“There’s always a different approach to how we win matches every year,” Bhadkamkar said.

The first-years will be asked to play a large role right at the start of their collegiate careers. Cultivating them has been and will continue to be important for this team.

“As a coach, we’ve got to be very intentional about telling them style and technique that we want them to play, and we’re trying to do that,” Hamilton said. “The players have responded well to our coaching.”

“There’s obviously going to be some growing pains and a few bumps in the road, but I think they’re all great guys and great tennis players,” Bhadkamkar said.

The aforementioned trio of third-years studied abroad first semester, leaving one returning player, Cole and all of the first-years on campus to compete during the fall pre-season. Although an unusual fall season, Hamilton applauded the veteran’s guidance of the first-years, during both the first and second semesters.

“They’re doing a nice job working with the young players. They’re all extremely high-achieving students and to top it off, they’ve all won at least one individual Midwest Conference Championship. If success is going to come to us, it’s going to be because of the intersection of our veteran players and our younger players,” he said.

So far, the team is 5-1, getting solid wins against Olivet Nazarene University and conference foe Carroll University, 5-4 and 7-2, respectively. Their one loss has come against Carleton College in a 9-0 defeat on February 26.

Of the loss, Ritter said, “We didn’t have the fire that we would’ve needed to beat a team that’s probably a little bit better than us.”

The Carleton loss was hard for the team, but Hamilton has clear-cut goals for the team this season.

“Our goal every year is to play for the Midwest Conference championship, for the guys to have fun playing the sport, and to be playing the best tennis at the end of the season,” he said.

The Pioneers have won eight straight conference titles and don’t plan on ending that streak this year. Hamilton saw one area where the team had room for improvement.

“It’s clear that we have to get better in doubles,” he said.

Bhadkamkar also considered what the Pioneers needed to do to maintain the streak.

“We just have to keep pushing each other and never getting complacent with the fact that we’ve won the last eight years,” he said. “It’s really more about how we come together as team than how individuals improve.”

The role of the first-years will also prove vital.

“I wouldn’t say that all of our new, young players are playing to the best of their ability yet—and that’s what we’re working towards,” Hamilton said.

The team is confident in their chances.

“If we play the kind of tennis that we can play, we’re the best team in conference,” Ritter said.

The Pioneers will travel to St. Peter, Minnesota this Saturday, March 3, to compete against Elmhurst College and the seventh ranked team in the Central region, Gustavus Adolphus College.

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