Jack Wiessenberger – Staff Writer
The Gustavus men’s tennis program has once again asserted its dominance over the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) by taking home its 32nd straight regular-season title. The team secured the title last weekend in a match against St. Thomas. The temperature hit a scorching 90 degrees the day of the match, but the Gusties persevered and walked away with yet another MIAC title. However, the season is not over yet. This weekend, the team will be competing in the conference playoffs with a chance to add the MIAC playoffs trophy to their collection. The team has played a strong season with an overall record of 14-2 and a perfect 9-0 in-conference.
“Especially after last season got canceled, it was great to win a regular season title. However, right now, most of us are focused and looking forward to the playoffs. I think my own performance was solid against St. Thomas, it was a hot day which created a tough climate to compete in but I think I handled it well. As for the team, we did a great job. We were playing with a lot of confidence and made sure we got the win,” Sophomore Oscar Wikstrom said.
The Gusties are playing with a sense of importance after missing the 2020 Spring and Fall seasons. After not seeing action for a full year, the team wasted no time getting back into the swing of things. After the Gusties played their first three matches, they found themselves ranked 13th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Now, at the tail end of their season, the team is hoping to continue their success all the way to a playoff championship.
“We are very grateful for another title. Obviously, we are aware that we are a part of a long standing tradition and legacy, and it means the world to us to stand on the shoulders of so many generations of great Gustavus Men’s Tennis teams. This group has worked extremely hard this year in unimaginable circumstances, and while the result of a championship means a ton to us, I am more proud of how our team has persevered through challenges and adversity all year long, and of how they have stuck together, stayed present and supported each other,” Head Coach Thomas Valentini said.
The tennis program at Gustavus has become synonymous with success over the years. The men’s team has not lost a match against a conference opponent in over three decades. However prosperous the team’s past, Coach Valentini has made it a priority to always keep his players focused on the present. As the Gusties approach playoff competition, he has stressed the importance of taking things one step at a time.
“In a year like this one, we certainly won’t look too far ahead. We try to focus on the present in all circumstances, but this year it’s all the more important. We are preparing to focus on what’s within our control and to let go of everything else and we’ll do everything we can to be the best version of our team that we can be when the playoffs begin. From there, we will enjoy the challenges and the moment,” Valentini said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear plans are nothing if not breakable. However, concentrating his team on what they have control over has allowed Coach Valentini to produce a thus far successful season. This mentality has been adopted by the players who are now facing their most stressful weekend of the season.
“Winning a playoff title would be great. It would mean a lot for us to bounce back from the canceled seasons and get the job done during a year unlike any other. However, I think most of us aren’t trying to think about it too much. We know we have the team and players in order to have a successful weekend. We will try not to focus too much on the playoff title and more on what we need to do to play our best tennis, and I believe the rest will follow,” Wikstrom said.
Sticking to the fundamentals is part of the team’s plan heading into playoff competition. The team is confident in their ability to play competitive tennis and win without needing to significantly adjust their game.
“There’s a lot on the line every match from here on out, but the team has competed in big moments before. One of the biggest keys is trusting the work and preparation that has been going on all season. We’re ready for any obstacles that will come our way. We have the talent and the mental toughness to do it, and it all starts with our match on Thursday,” Junior Luke Haddorff said.
Gustavus, as the playoff’s number one seed, will host number four seed Macalster this Thursday in the semifinal match. Earlier in the season, the Gusties beat the Scots 9-0. Should the Gusties make it past Macalester, they will host the championship match on Saturday. Following the disappointment of losing the last two seasons, the team is eager to make the most of their opportunities this weekend.