Several strong individual performances at the Midwest Conference Tennis Championships sparked the Knox College men’s tennis team to a respectable seventh place finish in the MWC meet, the team’s final event of the year, in Madison, Wis.
“I was actually pretty happy with our performance this weekend,” head coach John Baillie said. “We drew some tough seeds in the first round, and the way our guys were able to rebound from some tough defeats was really good to see.”
Junior Erik Hane took home the consolation championship of the #1 singles flight, rebounding from a 6-3, 6-2 opening-round loss to Monmouth College’s Chris Franco. Hane then defeated Ripon College’s Derrick Winterhack, 8-2, and Carroll University’s Kevin Rasmussen, 8-6.
In addition to Hane’s consolation victory, two other Prairie Fire competitors reached the consolation finals. Sophomore David Ham (#3 singles) and freshman Andrei Papancea (#6 singles) both dropped their consolation championship matches to their respective counterparts from Monmouth.
Sophomore Kenton Tilford and freshman Max Gatyas both took first-round victories in the #4 and #5 singles flights respectively. Both players’ runs were stopped in the quarterfinals, however.
Two of the Prairie Fire doubles teams earned first round victories as well. Knox’s #1 combination of Hane and sophomore Shaun Mulani defeated the #1 doubles team from Illinois College in straight sets before falling in a hard-fought, three hour match to Lawrence University’s Jason Dunn and Max Zlevor. Knox’s pair took the first set, 7-5, but dropped the next two, 3-6, 4-6.
Ham and Tilford, the Fire’s #2 pair, rebounded from a first-set loss to Ripon to take the next two sets to advance. Their run, however, was stopped in the quarterfinals by St. Norbert College.
Tilford earned nearly one-third of Knox’s 19 points in the tournament. Grinnell College won the event for the eighth straight year. Monmouth finished second.
Baillie is excited by the prospects of next year’s season.
“We return our entire lineup next year, and we have two recruits coming in that will play in that lineup and make an impact,” Baillie said. “It’s very rare as a coach to get that privilege where you don’t lose anyone to graduation.”
There will be some changes to the format of the MWC season and tournament, and the addition of Cornell College to the Midwest Conference in all sports except wrestling will make for a loaded South Division. Knox now faces powerhouse Grinnell, second-place Monmouth, a generally strong Lake Forest squad and a strong men’s tennis program at Cornell in its South Division season.
Still, Baillie sees big things coming for Prairie Fire men’s tennis.
“I see a breakout season for us,” he said. “Many of our guys will drop down to flights more suitable to their style – where they should be playing. I see us being close to .500 next year, which would be a huge accomplishment considering the past several years, and a good chance to make some noise in the MWC Individual Championships.”