The PLNU men’s tennis team is ranked fourth in the PacWest with an 11-9 record as they head into the PacWest Championships. The team will play Thursday in Arizona against the No. 5 seed team, Holy Names.
With Head Coach Rich Hills retiring last year after 33 years, the team has had to adjust to the coaching style of the new head coach Curt Wheeler, who played under Hill during his time at PLNU.
“There is always going to be some adjustment time in there, but I think that the guys have really bought into the stuff that we have talked about and the stuff that I expect of them and they expect of themselves,” said Wheeler. “It has been a very good progression.”
Wheeler said the team has also faced a tough schedule this season with top competition.
“Every match we have had has been a difficult match,” said Wheeler. “We had a couple weeks where we had back to back to back matches, which obviously takes a toll on the body. Mentally it is tough to recover. At the end of the year, our conference tournament, we play three matches in a row and so that was kind of a goal of mine, to have some difficulties in the scheduling like that which would get us prepared for the big tournament at the end of the year.”
Freshman Grant Alston said the team has experienced some close losses this year.
“It seems like a lot of the time this season it just didn’t go our way,” Alston said. “We had a couple matches that we lost 4-5 against really good teams.”
Despite a new head coach, tough schedule and a completely revamped roster, the team sits with a better record at 11-9 than last year when they finished 7-17. Team captain Martin Blaho, a junior, said that’s improving his mindset on the court.
“The biggest strength in my game is consistency; I’m not a guy that is going to hit the other guy off the court. That is not my game,” said Blaho. “For me it is very important for me to be comfortable being out there, because with that comes the consistency.”
Andre Staabe, a junior, is a leader in singles play, with a record of 14-5, and a winning percentage of 73 percent. CJ Erion, follows close behind with a record of 13-5, a winning percentage of 72 percent.
Doubles leaders include No. 1 doubles players, Daniel Milliken and Staab, and No. 2 doubles players, Blaho and Erion. The first pair has a 11-8 record, while the second pair has gone 7-11. Following them is No. 3 players, Jack Alston and James Tenbroeck, going 1-0.
“I’m definitely more active at the net,” Alston said, “My volleys are a lot better, and strategy-wise, I am a more solid doubles player.”
With 10 people on the team this year, the Sea Lions have a 55 percent winning percentage in their competitive league which includes Hawaii Pacific, Azusa Pacific and BYU-Hawaii in the lead ahead of them. Their home game record is 8-7 and their away record is 3-2. Currently the team is on a 4-game winning streak.
In those last games of the season, PLNU beat Westmont 8-1, Hawaii Hilo 9-0 and Williams University 5-4. Their last game against the No. 2 team, Azusa Pacific, resulted in a loss, 0-9, March 21. Their most recent game against UCSD resulted in a win 5-4 on April 10.
Their last match against Holy Names March 7 resulted in a close match, but PLNU lost 4-5. They will play Holy Names again Thursday in the championship.