Men’s tennis mixes youth with experience

by Matt Bower

The men’s tennis team finds itself in a unique position this season: the seven-member team consists only of seniors and freshman.

“It’s been different,” coach Bob Nutgrass said. “We don’t have a mid-range mix with the lack of sophomores and juniors, but the seniors have been excellent working with the freshmen.”

Nutgrass said senior Cory Veen exhibits good match mentality and keeps the team loose with his sense of humor and jokes while senior Andrew Merrill is more strategic in helping with skills and serves. Nutgrass said senior Luc Mbenoun helps out strategically and leads more by example.

Veen said the combination of seniors and freshmen has been successful.

“It’s been beneficial to the freshman getting tips from the seniors,” Veen said. “But it works both ways; the freshmen also give helpful pointers to the seniors. There’s just a good cohesion among all the team members.”

Veen said he helps the players with strategy of play, such as when and where to slide over during a doubles match, as well as form issues.

“I can definitely tell that they have adapted well and improved,” Veen said. “All the freshmen have improved 100 percent.”

Nutgrass said one reason for this is because the freshmen have been eager to learn during practice.

“They’re upset if they don’t play well,” Nutgrass said. “They have had a great attitude and adjustment to the next level.”

This is important because big shoes will need to be filled once Mbenoun, Veen and Merrill graduate.

“The freshmen have been able to see what the seniors do as leaders and they will be able to carry it on as sophomores,” Nutgrass said. “It will be my job to get them to understand they are the senior members.”

Nutgrass said he isn’t worried because the freshmen have stepped into the varsity roles well. This helped the team to an 8-6 overall and 6-2 conference records.

“It’s important to know your role on the team and where to fit in,” Nutgrass said. “This team has been great with that. They’ll say, ‘Coach, where do I fit in?’ and then go wherever I need them the most.”

The two, four and six spots in singles play are currently held by freshmen. In addition, all the doubles teams are made up of a senior and a freshman.

“That wasn’t planned but it’s worked out very well,” Nutgrass said.

Both Nutgrass and Veen agree the combination of youth and experience has been beneficial to the team and will help them in the conference tournament.

“We’re looking to be the fourth seed in the tournament,” Nutgrass said. “We’ll be disappointed if we don’t get fourth.”

He said Simpson will face Wartburg for its first match of the tournament.

“Wartburg has been crucial the past two years,” Nutgrass said. “This year won’t be any different.”

According to Nutgrass, the men’s tennis team will run into very tough competition in the conference tournament.

“The other three teams destroyed the rest of the league in dual matches,” Nutgrass said. “We’re looking to make an impact there and be competitive.”

Veen said the team’s expectations haven’t changed from previous years. He added that to achieve its goals, the team has been focusing on maintaining a competitive edge.

“We’re looking to finish in the top three or four,” Veen said. “We’ve been working on consistency in practice. As long as we’re consistent, we’ll be fine.”