The Knox tennis program has suffered its fair share of past defeats. The 2016-2017 season saw a 1-16 record for the men’s team and a 5-18 record for the women’s, compared to the previous year’s records of 2-20 and 6-9, respectively. The men struggled to pull together a full team of six members last year, forfeiting two conference matches against Millikin and Augustana and a lack of lighting postponed a crucial match against the Monmouth women’s team this last fall. This season, however, things are looking different, starting with the coaching staff.
While both the men’s and women’s teams have lost players this year, with a loss of three male and five female players, the program gained a new head coach in 2017. Long-time Galesburg resident and former tennis director for the Galesburg Tennis Management Group Meredith Witherell now leads the team.
Sophomore tennis player Jared Schulz says the transition in leadership has made all the difference.
“She’s changing the entire atmosphere of the team,” he said. “Last year was tough. We weren’t really a unified team. This year, she’s changing the atmosphere. She’s making everyone more happy to be on tennis. It’s just better overall.”
The women’s team shares similar sentiments about Coach Witherell.
“I really like her,” senior Miranda Corbett said. “She’s just really enthusiastic . . . and she’s super invested in tennis. She’s basically like a motherly figure for all of us. Every time someone wins, she cries. She’s really sweet.”
With the arrival of the new coach, Corbett says that the dynamic of team leadership has changed as well.
“There’s not necessarily formal leadership right now . . . So there’s a lot of people [on the team] who are leaders on the team, especially because there are a lot of seniors,” Corbett said.
The women’s team will lose four seniors after this year, who account for half of the team of eight total rostered players, but the team is excited to welcome new recruits in hopes of filling out the 2018-2019 roster.
“At least one girl is already committed,” Corbett says. “And [both teams] are still recruiting, so we’re expecting to still have a full team next year.”
In addition, the women’s team is currently 5-4 for conference.
“It’s the best we’ve done in 20 years,” she said.
Both teams play a series of non-conference matches throughout the season that contribute to their records. Each team faces off against teams like Wartburg, Simpson and Principia, providing the team with more chances to play in addition to the conference season.
“We [have] basically played all of our conference matches already. The conference tournament already happened. And in the spring, essentially, [we’re given] an opportunity to play more matches, and it used to be more strictly regulated but now we have more time to play.” Corbett said.
The men’s team is currently 0-2, having collected two losses against non-conference opponents Aurora University and Simpson College to open the season in early February and will have four more non-conference matches until they face off against Monmouth at home on Feb. 28.
Men’s tennis will face Central College at Central on Feb. 17 at 9 a.m., following the cancellation of their Feb. 10 Principia match and the women’s team will host Illinois Wesleyan University at 12 p.m. on Feb. 25.