Sports / The Prairie Fire / February 17, 2016

Tennis focuses on improvement

Every season begins with its own set of challenges. Whether it be to recreate the success of a prior season or dilute the failures, every team sets their goals accordingly.

For the Men’s Tennis team, the outlook is set toward improvement. With Head Coach Lawrence Eyre taking charge, the team is looking to better themselves as a whole and take something away from every match, regardless of the outcome.

 

“Our biggest goal is both collective and individual improvement,” Eyre said about the team’s primary goals. “The outcome is not primary in our focus. The process of improvement takes precedence. I say, having 25 years in high school and two years at Grinnell, that the more we focus on continuous improvement, the more likely the outcome goals will begin to emerge. It’s less likely when we focus on banners and trophies and tournament victories that we will obtain them, because we are playing for the goal and not the process of improvement.”

Starting the season with a quartet of losses hasn’t influenced the team’s goals. With a 0-9 match loss to North Central and an improved, though still struggling, 1-8 match loss to Simpson, the team is looking at the positives of what the outcome shows.

“We only had one match win, but all of our sets were closer,” continued Eyre. “We raised our level of play in the course of the day and that’s what I am looking for. We have a young team. Seven out of the nine players are either sophomores or freshmen, and the result is a longer-term view on developmental tennis. I’m not trying to cash in and knock Grinnell and Lake Forest out of the way this year. What we want to do is prepare for the long haul.”

Among the developing roster is senior Charlie Harned, who is participating in his first year of tennis. Being freshly integrated into the competitive side of the sport, his outlook on improvement over the year sits in line with his coach’s.

“As a senior, I feel comfortable with my tennis shortcomings,” said Harned. “I’m comfortable with being the hard-working kid who sucks at tennis but who still wants to give it a go.”

Of course, with every building season comes the frustration of losing and the mentality this approach holds. Coping with losing compared to the tradeoff of improvement for the future can be tough. Harned sees this barrier as something the team is ready to overcome.

“I think there’s a good understanding of where we are and where we want to be,” said Harned. “It’s always frustrating for people when they lose or when the team loses, but the joy from winning surpasses that. We do have our eye on the goal of winning games, but we understand that there is improvement that needs to happen.”

Sophomore Ganesh Uppalapu practices his serve during practice at the T. Fleming Fieldhouse. (Lucy Rae Dorn/TKS)

Sophomore Ganesh Uppalapu practices his serve during practice at the T. Fleming Fieldhouse. (Lucy Rae Dorn/TKS)

Captain and veteran player senior Rohail Khan expressed a similar feeling of progress, and stressed how important it is for him to keep the players in check and enthused.

“When I was given the captaincy,” said Khan, “I set goals for myself. The way I look at it is that I need to be a role model in the sense that I don’t see my role as being the best player on the team, but as being the most committed to the program, being disciplined, showing up on time, holding others accountable and making sure people are showing the required level of commitment. If Coach shows up to practice with only two players there, it’s not fair to him and it’s not fair to the players that show up. I give pep talks at times. For the first-years, it’s about helping integrate them into the team as well.”

Improvement and winning aside, Khan laid emphasis on the relationships between the players off the court as being just as important as the skills they gain on the court.

“We need to be there for each other off and on the court,” Khan said. “We want the tennis team to be a tight-knit unit. It’s the same for the women’s and men’s tennis team. If I am putting in 100 percent, I would expect others to do the same. If they reciprocate, I feel like that is a successful team spirit. Being disciplined, giving it your all, and we will see where we end the season at.”

Coach Eyre’s focus on the future might prove to be what this team needs. With veteran talent helping to integrate the new players into the system and a plethora of matches ahead, this year of development will be a telling sign as to the direction this team is headed. Whether they will be able to break away from their recent string of middle-ranked finishes is yet to be seen.

Mitch Prentice, Mosaic Editor

Tags:  Ashwin Kushwaha charlie harned Ganesh Uppalapu Lawrence Eyre rohail khan tennis

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