The PLNU men’s tennis team finished their season in what was an exemplary match that told the story of Coach Wheeler’s second year as leader of the squad.
Although the team won their final match of the season in the PacWest Championships on April 17, it was not sufficient to qualify for the NCAA Championships on May 7—a goal that has eluded this team since playing at the Division II level.
Yet this season can only be described as overcoming constant adversity.
After an 0-5 start to the season, the Sea Lions willed their way to a 12-8 record for the remainder of the year— despite many nagging and crucial injuries that affected the entire roster.
“This goes with every sport: once you get a couple wins—your confidence grows,” said Wheeler. “I don’t think we were playing bad tennis even in the midst of that losing streak. I think it was a combination of having a few guys that were hurt at the start of the year.”
Some of the many bright outlooks for the future came from the players vying for higher spots in the roster.
Freshman Adrian von Braun – who played at the six spot – improved his singles match record to 9-6 overall after losing three of his first four matches.
Sophomore CJ Erion – who had high expectations after achieving the PacWest Freshman of the Year award and a 16-5 record in singles last year – overcame an injury to accumulate a 14-9 singles record. Erion went on a hot streak of his own in March by winning seven consecutive matches—the longest singles winning streak of the season for the team.
Another positive performance came from the number one spot on the roster. Andre Staab – a German transfer student in 2015 – has been playing at the top spot on the roster since his arrival. After accruing an impressive 17-5 record in singles last year, Staab finished with a 10-10 record after undergoing multiple injuries during the beginning of the season.
The former NCAA All-American said the beginning of the year was about playing through injuries during his matches.
“In comparison to last season, it was really a different kind of season,” said Staab. “Because I’ve never had that issue [injuries] to deal with – ever since
I’ve been playing in the United States for three years – any injuries like that. So it has shown me a few more perspectives on tennis and how I have to deal with it when it gets even tougher.”
Staab said that being injured can be a mental obstacle to get over when playing against the top players in the nation.
Although the Sea Lions suffered many of their losses in their singles matches – going 61-80 overall – another reason for a hopeful future came from their doubles teams.
While some pairings fared better than others, the team clawed their way to a 38-37 doubles record—not an easy feat in a format that tends to be more unpredictable than single’s matches.
Some of the pairings were simply dominant—including a 12-3 record by Seniors Martin Blaho and James Tenbroeck and a 13-9 showing from Staab and Senior Daniel Miliken.
Despite missing out on the NCAA Championships, the lower ranked players on the roster – all underclassmen – had strong seasons to go along with great performances from the doubles teams—a sign of an optimistic future.
Wheeler said he looks to improve and build on the team’s overall volley play looking to next year—a year of cautious optimism as the Sea Lions will attempt to build on their success after losing four seniors.
“I think one thing that’s been a big focus for us –and this is men and women, but even the men specifically- is a greater skill and confidence at finishing points at the net,” said Wheeler. “I think it’s a huge advantage – doubles obviously because there’s a lot of net play – but singles too—someone who can consistently finish points at the net with a volley or an overhead, has a very big advantage over someone who just can’t do that
(…) so if that is a strength for us – which is much greater than other teams- I believe it gives us a big advantage. So that’s something that the last couple of years but also going forward will be a big focus.”
photo by plnusealions.com