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Tennis Teams Hope to Make NCAA Tournament For First Time

The sports programs at Point Loma have had a tremendous amount of success this year, and a number of firsts have occurred. The men’s soccer team and men’s basketball team each reached their respective NCAA tournaments for the first time in program history.

Now the men’s and women’s tennis teams both hope to join the list of PLNU teams to qualify for their first postseason at the Division II level.

“It is hard to compare teams from year-to-year, but this has been the strongest year on both sides success-wise,” Coach Curt Wheeler said.

Wheeler coaches both the men’s and women’s teams, and he is in his fourth season as the head coach. Coaching two teams is a challenge, but the challenge is one that Wheeler enjoys.

“It is a fun challenge,” Coach Wheeler continued. “The guys and girls are very different just by nature but also similar, so I try to operate differently while still staying true to my philosophy. It’s a fine balance.”

This year, the men finished the regular season with a record of 13-7, fourth in the PacWest, and they ranked fourth in the West region as of April 11. Their 13 wins is also the most by the team since joining Division II.

Experience pays dividends in sports, and the men boast a roster of four seniors which is a huge part of their success. Coach Wheeler gave a lot of credit to the experienced players on his rosters.

“The older ones have been around for the good and the bad, and they keep the younger guys [and girls] in check, not letting them get down in the tough times or too high during the good ones,” Wheeler said. “They are huge pieces of our success.”

“Experience definitely helps our team,” senior CJ Erion said. “We have four seniors and then Thomas (a junior) has a lot of tennis experience too. I have learned quite a bit after playing for four years, and I try to use that to help out the younger guys.”

In turn, the younger players try to learn as much as they can from their teammates. They often do not play as much as their older teammates, yet practicing with the more experienced players teaches them plenty.

“It has been a good experience with the guys older than me,” freshman Mark Vasat said. “The intensity of college tennis is very different, and I’ve learned how crucial the mental side of the game is. Also, it is important to be light-hearted in tennis and not always take everything so seriously. You can win only 50 percent of your points in tennis but still win the match, and staying loose can help you play better.”

On the women’s side, Nikki Newell is one of two seniors on the team and is also a captain for the Sea Lions, so one of her primary roles with the team is to be a leader.

“I try not to make it about myself a lot and focus instead on how I can help the team,” Newell said. “Tennis is an individual sport a lot of the time, but college is different because you have a team around you. I just do the best that I can to help the team and the younger girls when I can.”

McKay has not played as much this season, but she still does what she can for the team.

“It has required a lot of patience, but I try to work hard and have a positive attitude for the rest of the team,” McKay said.

“It has been fun growing closer with all of the girls, and beating ranked teams and Division I schools was a lot of fun,” freshman Madi McKay said. “It is a big change but a lot more fun now.”

The women went 17-5 on the year, tying their most wins as a team since moving up to Division II. They finished second in the PacWest and were ranked fifth in the regional rankings as of April 11.

At one point during the season, the women were ranked as high as number 11 in the nation, and upset top teams like Academy of Art, who was number six in the nation at the time. They also capped their season with a victory over number 11 Azusa Pacific on senior day this past Saturday.

Everyone on both the men’s and women’s tennis teams share similar ambitions; Coach Wheeler and his players all hope to make it to regionals and believe they can.

The PacWest tournament will take place this week from April 18-21, and the NCAA tournament would begin April 28 if the teams were to make it that far.

 

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Andrew Hansen

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