For the Knox men’s tennis team (4-14, 1-2), the times recently have been tough and there may be a rough road ahead-at least in terms of the schedule.
“We have three matches in the next four days,” said first-year head coach John Baillie. “Monmouth tomorrow [Wednesday], Eureka Thursday and Grinnell on Saturday.”
Although Monmouth sported just a 4-11, many young Fire tennis players were subjected to their first taste of a Knox-Monmouth atmosphere, making it a difficult matchup despite the record. Eureka, though winless on the year, likely will come in with a “nothing-to-lose” attitude for Thursday’s matchup. Grinnell, the favorite to win the Midwest Conference’s South Division (and the conference title), will sport an 18-5 record when the Fire come to town Saturday.
Despite the potential obstacles, Baillie sees plenty of reasons for optimism.
“We are not out of the conference race at this point,” Baillie said. “We are 1-1 in the South, which is a big deal because we just need to beat Monmouth and Grinnell and we will make the [conference] tournament. I’m pretty excited about that.”
In addition to the team controlling its own destiny, Baillie’s club has seen several solid performances recently from all facets of the team’s lineup, but especially at the top.
“Our number one doubles team [sophomore Eric Hane and freshman Shaun Mulani] is 11-6 at the moment and has been playing really well,” Baillie said. “We lost a tough match to Dubuque on Sunday. We had three matches go to tie-breakers, which is pretty awesome.”
With its playoff hopes at stake, Knox traveled to Monmouth on Wednesday to square off in a South Division duel. Unfortunately for the Fire, though, they were turned away empty-handed with a 6-3 loss to the archrival Scots.
Hane took the lone Fire victory in singles action at the number one spot, with a 6-4, 6-0 victory. Five straight Knox losses left the Fire without a win opportunity, but to Knox’s credit, the team did not quit. The Fire took two of the three doubles matches (Hane and Mulani at number one and the freshmen duo of David Ham and Kenton Tilford at number three).
The loss leaves the Fire at 4-14 overall with a 1-2 record in conference play.
Knox now enters a must-win situation at the first-place Pioneers on Saturday, with a 2-2 record still potentially giving the Prairie Fire hope for a playoff spot.
Despite needing a win against the conference’s top team on its home court, Baillie remains optimistic and likes his team’s chances.
“I think we have a very good chance,” Baillie said. “Grinnell is a very good team. The danger when you play Grinnell is, if you let them, then they will just run you over. It is important to remember that we are a very good team, too. I think, if not this year, then next year Knox is going to be looking at competing for a conference championship.”