Knox College has not had a men’s tennis team place in the top four teams in the Midwest Conference since 2005.
First year head coach John Baillie hopes that will change soon.
“I would like to be competing this year to be one of the top four teams in the conference,” Baillie said. “If not this year, then next year is the absolute goal to be in the top four teams. My goal is to make it to conference and have people realize this is not your old Knox team that you are going to push around. This is the new Knox athletics team.”
So far this season, the team’s performance has pleased Baillie.
“The team is doing phenomenal — absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “They are a bunch of guys that want to win at tennis and they have responded to every challenge I have thrown at them. I said at the beginning of the season that I didn’t want them to be out of any match and they haven’t been. There is no one being blown out of the water. We have had a lot of tie breakers and super tie breakers, which may be a result of us being young.”
St. Norbert 8, Knox 1
On Sunday, the St. Norbert College Green Knights came to the ‘Burg and defeated the Prairie Fire 8-1.
Scoring the lone point for Knox was the doubles tandem of sophomore Eric Hane and freshman Shawn Mulani, who have now won six doubles matches in a row.
“Sunday, what we were looking at was St. Norbert, who is probably one of the top four teams in the conference, and we knew going in that they were going to be very good,” Baillie said on Monday. “We played some competitive matches against them and were not as successful as we could have been.”
The match was moved to Lakeside Recreation Center, which is located at Lake Storey due to the weather conditions.
“The Midwest Conference gives us a ‘feels like’ temperature, which is a combination of wind chill and actual temperature. It needs to be above 45 degrees and it was ‘feels like’ 35 on Sunday; therefore we moved it inside,” Baillie said. “Switching inside affected both teams a little bit. The warm-ups took a little bit longer and that kind of stuff.”
Knox 9, Ripon College 0
This past Saturday, Knox blanked the Red Hawks of Ripon College 9-0 at home. Hane won convincingly at the number one singles position 6-0, 6-1 over Ripon’s Jay Hardacre. Senior Brian Leddy and freshman Kenton Tilford both battled to three set wins, with Leddy winning 4-6, 6-3, 10-6 at the number four singles position and Tilford winning 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 at number five.
“I think Saturday went really well, because we played at our level and at no point moved to their level, which I think is very important for a young team to be able to do,” Baillie said. “We had some good competitive matches, but we played our tennis and our aggressive style.”
Over spring break, the Prairie Fire traveled to Orlando, Fla., played three matches and were swept in them.
“We went into spring break knowing that we were going to face some very good competition,” Baillie said. “I purposely scheduled some schools that have had a lot of success in the past and I explained to the guys ahead of time that it would be some of the best competition we will see all year.
“Overall, I thought the trip was not necessarily successful in the win-loss column but was very successful in experience building for the guys — to see where we would like our program to go.”
Due to unforeseen circumstances, Leddy and Tilford, the number four and five singles players respectively, did not make the trip.
Junior Cody Dailey, who transferred to Knox from Carl Sandburg College, filled in at the five spot for the Prairie Fire. Freshman Mike Carr filled in at the sixth spot and sophomore Runtian Bai, who normally fills the sixth spot, filled in at the four spot.
“Whenever you have an unexpected line-up change, it affects your team,” Baillie said. “Some guys had to play up in positions they didn’t necessarily have the experience of playing in. You always miss guys that leave, but we had guys that were excited to fill those positions and step up to the challenge and they had some success at it.”