Sports / The Prairie Fire / March 8, 2017

Young players improving quickly

Freshman Swarup Behera returns the ball during a doubles practice session earlier this term. Behera teamed up with freshman Jared Schwarz to defeat their doubles opponents from Simpson College. (Mitch Prentice/TKS)

The Knox Tennis program has been under reconstruction for the past two seasons under Coach Lawrence Eyre. This has been an arduous process in a sport reliant on a special level of chemistry and performance. It does not help that Knox competes in a conference with teams that rarely struggle to field strong tennis squads.

However, the unsuccessful record for the Men’s team’s winter season hardly reflects the progress being made on the court.

This process of working toward improvement is a very difficult one, especially considering the fact the team only has seven players. To make matters worse, several of these players are experiencing various injuries. A young group, this team of seven is resilient and ready to continue working hard in an effort to make progress.

Junior Errol Kaylor, one of two members of the program with more than two years of experience, tries to remain positive for his teammates.

“I feel that [the work] sets us up actually for a really strong season in a couple years, given that Coach Eyre will have plenty of time to work with the new players and get their form down,” Kaylor said.

Kaylor stressed the importance of having a strong bond with a coach and their mentality toward the game to be successful in tennis, saying that it was even more important in tennis than most other sports.

The fact that their competition has often consisted of very strong and experienced players has been difficult for the team, but this has also led to a substantial amount of progress.

“A lot of the teams that we’re facing are very well established, and this is a fairly young program under Coach Eyre. We are still making leaps and bounds,” Kaylor said.

Just one of two juniors on a team featuring zero seniors, Kaylor credits his fellow junior Ganesh Upplapu with helping him mentor and encourage the younger players.

Often his doubles partner, Uppalapu shares Kaylor’s positive outlook for the future of the Men’s Tennis team.

In explaining how the team has managed without having seniors, Uppalapu said, “There has never really been a real seniority thing on the team. Everyone just kind of stays closely knit.”

Uppalapu stressed the negative impact injuries have had on the season so far. Not only do the injured players miss opportunities to improve during practices and matches, but missing a player necessitates “having to have guys play above where they usually would be playing.”

While this has been difficult for the team, Uppalapu believes that the team will be fully healthy and ready to compete by the time conference rolls around.

This, Uppalapu said, is especially great news because players grow more from playing in the high pressure situations at conference than any other time.

Freshman Mahmood Ali Khan swings to keep a rally going during practice earlier this term. Khan easily beat his opponent in a match against Simpson College. (Mitch Prentice/TKS)

Though the team has started the season winless through nine games, there have been impressive moments from every player.

In the team’s opener against Aurora University, sophomore Minh Le beat his opponent in the number one slot in three sets.

Freshman Mahmood Ali Khan defeated his opponent against Simpson College that same day in just two sets.

In the number two doubles slot against Simpson College, freshmen Swarup Behera and Jared Schwarz emerged victorious against their opponents at a score of 8-5.

These strong performances show that better days are coming for the Knox Men’s Tennis program, as their incredibly young roster will continue to gain experience in the competitive Midwest Conference.

Tyler Price

Tags:  errol kaylor Ganesh Uppalapu jared schwarz knox college men's tennis mahmood ali khan minh le swarup behera

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