After a disappointing 8-1 loss to Carroll University two weeks ago, Knox College men’s tennis coach John Baillie made it clear that the results were considered unacceptable. On the following Monday the only thing the team did was run. The response to the tough conditioning was an impressive 8-1 win over Loras College on Feb. 25.
“The great thing is that [the players took] ownership of what they [had] to do,” Baillie said of the teams response to the practice. “When we talked about running at the next practice, nobody was surprised, nobody was upset, they embraced the challenge.”
Senior Erik Hane explained that the team was equally disappointed as coach was with the loss to Carroll.
“Carroll was a team that was no better than us. They are a good team, but we did not play our best.”
Hane added that the team took the conditioning as motivation to get better.
“Sometimes being miserable for two hours puts things into perspective,” Hane said. “It reminded us that none of this is going to be easy, we are going to have to fight and scrap to get to where we want to be.”
Where the team wants to be, according to coach Baillie, is the near the top of the conference. Off to a 3-2 start this season, Baillie believes this team’s attitude is clearly different than those of past years.
“The biggest difference between this season and past seasons is that this season we feel confident at all six positions,” he said. “I think we have players playing in the right position for the first time in three years.”
Baillie also explained that in the past, certain players felt like they absolutely needed to win for the team to have a chance, now the team is competitive at every level.
“It’s nice to be able to say that we have won some matches with our four through six singles, not to say that our one through three guys aren’t performing, but the skill level does not drop off as much as it used to,” Baillie said.
Part of the depth has come in the form of a productive class of young players. Freshman Walter Palmer is undefeated in singles matches so far this season, while freshman Karolis Ruzgas has compiled a .500 records in singles. Additionally freshman Jonathan Ng has combined with Ham to go unbeaten in four doubles matches this season.
“They have stepped up into leading positions,” Baillie said. “Number two singles, high positions in the doubles lineup, it’s really exciting.”
The only senior on the roster, Hane is also pleased with the efforts of his younger teammates.
“We are a young team without a doubt. But despite the learning curve that goes along with being a freshman player, introducing them to our system has gone well, and we are still having success,” he said.
All three of Knox’s victories this season have come by at least an 8-1 margin, all while not having played a single home match.
“Because we don’t have a strong indoor facility we spend the entire month of February on the road,” Baillie said. “Everyone hates it, the freshmen hate it, the sophomores hate it, the seniors hate it. But we have gotten the grind out of the way early.”
Hane believes the team, which plays six of their last seven matches at home, will thoroughly enjoy the home cooking.
“It’s easier to focus at home,” he said. “It’s less upsetting to the routine, eating at normal times, not worrying about missing class or getting on a bus, we can just concentrate on playing.”
But whether at home or on the road, the Prairie Fire is ultimately looking for wins.
“The guys have embraced the thought that this is the season for men’s tennis to prove what we are. The program has been unsuccessful in recent years, but we have the talent to compete this year,” Baillie said.
“The general feeling is that we still have not played as well as we can yet, and considering how well we’ve played so far that is a good thing I think,” Hane said.
The Prairie Fire’s next match is at home against St. Norbert this Saturday, Mar. 3.