Despite graduating ten seniors last year, the Gustavus men’s tennis team has retained its impressive depth with the addition of eight new first-years. The team is hoping to use their numbers to propel to new heights and are setting high goals for both the fall and spring seasons.
“Our goals are always extremely high and we love to push it,” Senior Sam Hjelm said.
“People think of tennis as such an individual sport sometimes, but the way that we play tennis and the way that we support each other, it really makes it not that way.”—Sam Hjelm
During the fall season, which only lasts for about four weeks and is more focused on individual results, the men’s tennis team will play in two tournaments. The first tournament will be this coming weekend, Sept. 19-21, at Drake University and the following weekend, Sept. 26-28, Gustavus will host the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional Championships. The tournament will involve 230 athletes from thirty schools around the Midwest with the winners becoming All-American athletes and having the opportunity to qualify for fall Nationals, according to Head Coach Tommy Valentini.
In addition to the individual tournaments, the fall season is also about acclimating the new first-year members to being in college and playing tennis at a college level.
“The first-years are in the process of such a huge transition, and from a tennis perspective and standpoint they are becoming part of a new philosophy and a new community, and it’s important that we get them integrated and comfortable and acclimated as soon as possible to give them the best chance to succeed as tennis players and as a team,” Coach Valentini said.
Coach Valentini also stressed the role that the senior members of the team have in helping the first years achieve balance not only on the tennis team but off the court as well.
“We feel like the best way for the new members to become acclimated is to have one of the guys that have been through it to spend some individual time and away from tennis time with them,” Coach Valentini said. Having upper-class mentors has been viewed positively by the first-years.
“It’s a really good thing just to sit down and talk to my mentor and say what things are challenging me, because he has probably been through it,” Freshmen Mohaned Alhouni said about his mentor, Senior Nicholas Reiners.
The spring season, on the other hand, is more focused on the team as a whole doing well in the MIAC and NCAA tournaments and runs much longer; from the end of January Interim Experience to the end of the school year.
This year the team is hoping to continue their 26 year winning streak at the MIAC Championships and continue on to place high in the NCAA Tournament.
“Our goal is to push through one more [round] and get to the final eight this year,” Senior Matt Baker said when asked about the teams goals for the NCAA Tournament.
Along with succeeding at the ITA, MIAC, and NCAA Tournaments the men’s tennis team is also focused on supporting one another and creating a family within the team.
“People think of tennis as such an individual sport sometimes, but the way that we play tennis and the way that we support each other, it really makes it not that way. Even in the fall we consider it an individual season but we make sure we’re not that way. If you’re not playing at that moment you will be on somebody else’s court watching them and supporting them,” Hjelm said.
“It’s a really good thing just to sit down and talk to my mentor and say what things are challenging me, because he has probably been through it.”—Mohaned Alhouni
“Everyone is just really friendly and they think of our team as a family. Everyone will go out of their way to go and talk to you,” First-year Zach Ekstein said when asked what he thought about being a new member on the team.
The men are confident that, despite losing a large number of seniors, their depth, determination, and positive team dynamic will help them achieve their goals this year.
“Last year we had a lot of good senior leaders, and we lost a lot of our top guys. So it’s exciting this year because there’s the opportunity for guys to either step up in the lineup to the top spots, and also new guys who didn’t get a chance last year to play in our top group to step up,” Senior Brad Entwistle said.