Men’s Tennis spring season starts strong: Gusties look to improve record in MIAC play

Although there may have not been any formal practices during the nationally ranked Gustavus Men’s Tennis team’s hiatus after the conclusion of their Fall season in October, the 20th ranked Gusties did not stop preparing for the start of their Spring season, which officially began in late January. Head Coach Tommy Valentini has been pleased with the team in both seasons.

“We felt good about our progress during the fall. The team performed well against a D1 field at Drake and played well overall at the ITA regional. Our top priority was to get our new family members into our rhythm and culture, and to help our leaders adjust to new roles to set the tone for the spring, and we felt like that process went well,” Coach Valentini said regarding the Fall season. Talking about the spring season, Coach Valentini continued, “We are making good progress in living out our values on the court each day in practice and competition and as a group.  We’ve been playing good tennis and are working to get healthy here in the early portion of the season.”

As Coach Valentini commented, the team has definitely been playing good tennis as of late, compiling a record of eight wins and only two losses this spring, including an undefeated record of 2-0 in MIAC Conference play thus far. This record very well may be accredited to the players’ hard work in their brief so-called break during the winter months, which, as mentioned earlier, included zero formal practices. Instead, players took it upon themselves to get together to stay fresh and improve their game.

“We are making good progress in living out our values on the court each day in practice and competition.” — Coach Valentini

“Between fall and spring seasons there were no formal practices. Players on the team would hit with each other on their own time as much as their schedules would allow,” Junior Jacob Endres said. With an abundance of talented players on the team, just hitting and practicing with one another can do wonders for the team’s progression.

“Depth is always a key for us and this year is no different.  The vast majority of our roster has important responsibilities against outside competition, so everyone has a key role in our team’s competitive success.  And there is no question that our potential for improvement is impacted by the depth and ability that the guys bring to practice every day,” Coach Valentini said.

Despite the harsh Minnesotan winters, the Gusties are still able to practice and play competitively year-round inside the tennis bubble. Some players, like Endres, are itching to get outside, however.

“Indoor play is very controlled and predictable. The ball will leave your racquet and bounce exactly as you expect it will. Outdoor play is far more dynamic. Wind and sun are huge factors that do not exist indoors. You have to be far more adaptable and resilient to be successful when playing outside. Indoor tennis favors players who hit lots of tennis balls throughout the year and are fixed in their specific routines. Outdoor tennis favors the craftier and more determined player who can accept that the environment factors are out of their control and puts forth their best effort to win. I prefer playing outside,” Endres said when asked about the difference between playing tennis indoors versus outdoors.

As the season moves along, the team plans to keep improving, which in turn, will hopefully result in the completion of some major goals. For Sophomore Chase Johnson, those goals include NCAA tournament and all-conference aspirations.

“As a team, I’m hoping that we can make it to the elite eight in the NCAA tournament. Over the last couple years, we’ve lost in the sweet 16, so it would be great if we could take the next step this year. Individually, I would like to make all-conference for both singles and doubles,” Johnson said. These things are entirely possible, but Coach Valentini will be happy and proud of the team regardless of results if a few things remain static.

“As long as the guys focus on giving their best effort, choosing to stay positive and present, and to play with great sportsmanship, we feel like we can be very successful,” Coach Valentini said.

Sophomore Patrick Whaling returns a ball during a match Feb. 11. The team takes on Grinell College at 5:30 on Feb. 25 at home.