Men’s tennis looks for higher finish

by Carrie LaGree

Simpson men’s tennis coach Bob Nutgrass hopes the team’s tough non-conference schedule will prepare them for a high finish in the IIAC.

The team finished fourth in the IIAC the past two years, and its “number one year long goal” is to finish higher than fourth this year, said Nutgrass.

Nutgrass hopes to achieve this goal by improving “how we play” each match and focusing on “mental toughness.”

Nutgrass says mental toughness is important to this year’s team because it’s a young team.

“Focusing on complementing teammates instead of on your own problems while on the court wins matches,” Nutgrass said.

The Storm has only one senior, James McNeal, who is a three-year letter winner at Simpson. McNeal and sophomore Sam Skalland are the team’s co-captains.

Nutgrass will look to McNeal for leadership. In addition to providing leadership as a fellow player, McNeal is also interning as a student assistant coach this season.

Skalland will play number one singles and number one doubles for the Storm this season. The other two returning players for the Storm are sophomores Garrett Piklapp and Dave Venables.

Nutgrass also expects freshmen Cory Veen and Andrew Merrill to contribute immediately. Both players excelled in high school, and Nutgrass expects Veen and Merrill to “step in and make an impact.”

Merrill and Skalland went to high school together at St. Pius X in Kansas City, Mo. where they played doubles together. Merrill and Skalland are set to be doubles partners at Simpson as well.

One of the biggest challenges for the new players will be adjusting between the indoor and outdoor seasons. Nutgrass expects to make some line-up changes to account for different player’s strengths and weaknesses on indoor courts.

Despite the large number of underclassmen on the tennis team, Nutgrass said this team has great chemistry and they’re “fun to be around.”

Coach Nutgrass understands that his team might “take a beating” early in the season, but “if we’re going to be good, we need to play the good teams,” Nutgrass said.

The non-conference schedule should aid the young Storm team in strengthening their mental toughness, which could lead them to a higher IIAC finish this season.

Coe continues its dominance in the IIAC this year. Luther and Central, who finished second and third last year, also bring back strong teams.

The Storm will play most of their matches out-of-town. The first home match is April 6 against Luther.

The Storm opened their season last weekend in Decorah, where they played Hamline, University of Minnesota-Morris and Buena Vista. Hamline beat the Storm 7-0 with no Simpson player posting a win. Simpson came back to beat NCAA Division II Mnnesota-Morris 5-2.

The Storm finished the weekend by losing a close match to Buena Vista 4-3. Simpson plays Buena Vista at least two more times this year – at Storm Lake on April 9 and a home match on April 19. The teams could square off a fourth time in the IIAC Team Tournament.