WRITTEN BY: GRIFFIN ASELTINE | STAFF WRITER
Despite last year’s entire starting lineup returning to the roster and the resulting high expectations coming into the season, the men’s tennis team now sits at a less-than-stellar 1-5 record with 17 games left to play. On paper, it may be easy to count them out of postseason contention.
But Curt Wheeler, who is currently in the middle of his second season as head coach, says otherwise. Following a 2-4 start, he brought the men’s team to a winning record (12-11) last season, as well as the #26 spot in the final ITA rankings.
“There’s always a lot of factors that we can attribute to wins and losses,” said Wheeler. “But an important thing for us is not making excuses. Execution and playing at a higher level is obviously the primary thing to focus on.”
While “excuses” certainly weren’t an acceptable alternative for Wheeler, many of the factors that played a critical role in the team’s struggle were discussed, with the lack of execution remaining the most prominent.
“We have had some early season in- juries, and in tennis, that can make a big difference,” said Wheeler. “There’s some- thing known as ‘tendinitis’ that leads to inconsistency. Not only can that affect someone physically, but it also has a mental effect when you know you’re not 100 percent.”
Wheeler did not disclose details on injuries, but mentioned that there were at least two key players who performed at a high level last season and have not been able to reach that same margin this year.
The early strength of schedule was also cited as a major obstacle. Notable matchups included San Diego Christian, one of the highest-ranked teams in the NAIA, UC San Diego and Azusa Pa-
Jack Alston leaps for a backhand shot versus Azusa Pacific. Alston won his singles match against Jonah Tahilan from Holy Names.
Pacific—both ranked above PLNU in last year’s final ITA rankings—and UC Riverside—a NCAA Division I opponent.
“I was deliberate about making our schedule tough,” said Wheeler. “I wanted them to be tested to start the season, but our ultimate goal is to play our best tennis towards the end of the year, since that’s what has the most significant impact within the rankings.”
The matchups may have been brutal due to the quality of opponents, but four of the team’s five losses have been away from PLNU. Wheeler said this has had more of an impact than most would tend to think.
“It’s always difficult playing on the road,” said Wheeler. “That especially applies to tennis due to factors such as humidity, temperature and wind factor.”
Senior Andre Staab agreed with Wheeler’s perspective following PLNU’s first win of the season on Saturday against Holy Names—which happened to be just their second game of the year at home.
“I think it’s a really big factor,” Staab said. “If you have a three-hour car ride, that takes away the quick start and you can’t plan things out as well. We also know our courts and equipment better than other teams, so it’s a big advantage to play at home.”
PLNU has rematches scheduled with UC San Diego and Azusa Pacific at the end of the season—this time with home-court advantage. Both match-ups will likely be crucial statement games as the regular season comes to a close.
The team certainly has its opportunities, but the ship must be turned around as soon as possible. Curt Wheeler said that it’s only a matter of time.
“I think what we’re doing is good. It’s just a matter of a few things going our way. That includes playing at a higher level, letting ourselves heal up, and gaining confidence,” Wheeler said. “If we get one good win under our belt, everything suddenly may seem better from a mental standpoint, and we could turn that momentum into a winning streak.”
Saturday’s win over Holy Names may have been the catalyst Wheeler was referring to. Staab felt that the victory did more than snap a five-game losing streak.
“We really believed we could win to- day,” Staab said. “Everybody played well and we came prepared. That was a really good boost that gave us a lot of confidence.”
A 2-4 start in 2015 didn’t look too promising, but a 5-1 stretch to end the season brought the team to its first winning record in three years. If head coach Curt Wheeler’s ambitions become reality, history will repeat itself in an even bigger way in 2016.