Connor Barnard continues to impress during his first collegiate season

by Seth Albers, sports reporter

Many of the players on the men’s tennis team for Simpson College have been playing tennis since they were in grade school, but freshman Connor Barnard has taken a slightly different path to success.

Currently playing in the No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles spot, Barnard has the best record in both singles (7-7) and doubles (8-6) play this year and is only getting better. It may not seem like it, but Barnard has only been playing tennis since his sophomore year of high school.

 In just a few short years and with only a small amount of tennis experience, Barnard is proving that he will be a force to be reckoned with in the IIAC for the next four years.

Through a combination of hard work, some natural talent and a left-handed swing, Barnard is pacing a Simpson squad that is looking to break into the top of the conference rankings.

With perennial powerhouses Luther and Coe at the top of the standings, the path to success in conference play will not be easy, but Barnard is confident in his team’s ability.

“I want us as a team to at least get third in the conference. Luther, Coe and Central are always at the top of the standings and I am hoping we can make a push for the third spot,” Barnard said.

Barnard was wary to give an indication as to what his personal goals for the season were, but he made it clear that he wants to take his record greater than .500.

That will be a tough task no matter which way it is looked at. The Storm have had a number of ups and downs since the beginning of the season, but they do not seem discouraged. Currently sitting at 3-9 without their top player Zack Kusick, this group has their work cut out for them.

“Out of necessity Connor has been forced to step up this year and he has not disappointed,” head coach T.J. Cox said this past week. “With our returning number 1 (Zach Kusick) going down with an injury and possibly being gone for the season, we have leaned heavily on Connor near the top of our lineup.”

As the season has moved forward, there have been a number of rough patches for the men so far, but Barnard is confident that they can get back on track. According to Barnard, everyone on the team is continually getting better and they believe that even without Kusick, they have the drive and determination to make waves in a stacked conference.

Senior Jeff Armstrong has been playing a great deal with Barnard this season and the two have developed a great deal of chemistry in a short amount of time. The two have very similar playing styles making it easy for them to work fluidly.

On top of that, Barnard’s advantage as a left handed tennis player allows him to make shots and create spin that other players cannot. Armstrong is right handed, but with a lefty to compliment him, he is able to raise the level of his game.

“We play competitive teams, so our mentality is to go out and have fun while still giving it our all. We leave everything on the court,” Armstrong said. “Connor is an incredible tennis player, and I have been honored to be by his side as we progress through the season.”

After a tough road trip to Orlando in which the team came out 1-4, Barnard is confident that the team is ready to scratch and claw their way to the conference tournament. As he continues to gain invaluable experience, Barnard is poised to keep getting better and better; a great sign for a team that is eager to start their conference season.