As the world’s best tennis players enter into one of the quietest stretches of the year, Simpson men’s tennis embarks on their busiest, kicking off the 2015 spring season last weekend in Galesburg, Illinois.
For the Storm, Simpson will attempt to rebound from an 8-13 year last season and record that has not been over .500 since a 9-8 record in 04’-05, back when Simpson’s NCAA Compliance Coordinator, and physical education professor, Bob Nutgrass was still head coach.
Since Nutgrass’ departure in 2008, the Storm went through two coaches before landing on current head coach, TJ Cox, who has gone 17-44 in three years, looking to build the men’s tennis program.
Men’s tennis is rebuilding from last year which includes dealing with the loss of two seniors who earned significant time: Dylan Hogan and Alex Hook. They combined for a 15-17 singles record and a team-best, 4-1 doubles record.
They’ll look to rebound with a strong group of freshman and some leadership from juniors, Peter Rietgraf and Zach Kusick.
“The freshmen are looking pretty good,” Rietgraf said. “I think (Zach and I) have stepped up into the leadership role.”
Together, they look to have their input heard by coach Cox.
“We are really trying to talk to our coach and talk about how we can mix things up at practices,” Kusick said.
Cox focuses on tailoring practices that get his players to capitalize on their strengths.
“I’m real big proponent of ‘plusing’ your plusses,” Cox said. “Obviously you want to work on your weaknesses, but if you have one shot you want to play to that. We do a lot of strategy work to get our players to be able to play to their strengths.”
Practicing on the slippery surfaces of the north end of Cowles Fieldhouse, the team occasionally heads to Des Moines to get time on the typical, hard court surfaces.
“It would be freaking awesome to get an indoor complex,” Rietgraf said. “It would attract more players and give us a chance to play on real surfaces more frequently.”
Among the promising freshman group is Waterloo native, Connor Barnard, who showed promise in the IIAC Individual Tournament back in the fall.
“Barnard will probably play the two or three spot this year,” Cox said. “We are looking for big things out of him.”
Adam Weiser, from Atlantic, and Aaron Smith out of Marion, round out the group of freshman for the Storm as Jeff Armstrong, the lone senior, bookends the group.
“Jeff hasn’t really been in the mix the last two years, but he’s here this year and we’ll be looking for some leadership from him,” Cox said.
Kusick, the junior from Westminster, Colorado went 10-10 last season and will be expected to be one of the leaders this season although he’ll have to work through foot injury he suffered in January.
The junior suffered two torn ligaments in his foot, an encumbering injury for any player, but especially one such as Kusick who relies so heavily on speed.
“Right now I just need to get healthy,” Kusick said. “It’s been about four weeks out and I just want to be running like I used to because that’s most of my game.”
Kusick did not compete this past weekend in Galesburg, Ill. as the men’s team went 0-3 against Knox College (Ill.), North Central College (Ill.) and Augustana College (Ill.).
The team is guaranteed 13 more non-conference matches, including trips to Galesburg and Quincy, Illinois, Owatonna, Minnesota, St. Peter, Minnesota and a trip to Orlando, Florida before beginning their seven game conference season on April 11.
Throughout this time it will be all-hands on deck, as the team only boasts eight players, ensuring all players will get playing time each match.
This full schedule for each player will continue on Feb. 21 as the men’s tennis team heads to Galesburg, Illinois once again for matchups with Webster University (Missouri) and Illinois College.