With men's and women's tennis quickly making a name for themselves in the Central Region, 2004-2005 has officially become the year of the breakout for the Maroons. Volleyball, men's swimming, women's basketball, and now both tennis teams have surpassed all expectations this year, building on a combination of new coaches, young talent, and experienced veterans. The tennis squads, however, now have a chance to do what the other three surprises were unable to pull off: make the NCAA postseason.
Along the way, they've knocked some teams out of the running for their own playoff berths. On the same day that the women beat 23rd-ranked Wheaton for their sixth-straight win, the men also convincingly handled the Thunder, prompting one player in the stands to mutter to a teammate, "Well, there goes our chance at nationals." The men's team, currently ranked 10th in the region, has split eight matches this season against other regionally ranked opponents, including big wins against 8th-ranked Coe and 11th-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater. The women are 5-4 against the region, establishing themselves as contenders over their 10-4 spring.
It's been an unbelievable run, and it's even more amazing considering that just two years ago, both the men and women played a combined 17 matches over the entire year. With a coach who had clearly given up, the program was all but grounded.
Head coach Marty Perry, hired before the 2003-2004 season, has been instrumental on both the recruiting and coaching sides of the tennis program's turnaround. High-percentage play has been Perry's strategic focus, as he has emphasized playing to one's strengths as opposed to going for the big shot. Perry brought in the women's second singles player, first-year Michele Parad, while refining second-year captain Ade Omodele-Lucien (11-6, first singles), third-year Annie Miller (11-2, third), fourth-year Christine Kim (7-3, fourth), and third-year Liz Saydah (7-2, fifth) around the newcomer.
Perry's recruits have been even more critical for the men, first and foremost among them third-year Wisconsin transfer Ward Bortz, currently ranked third in the Central with a 16-6 record. First-years Sasha Deriy (12-9, second singles), Joseph Tchan (9-6, fourth), and Bharath Sithian (16-7 overall) have integrated with returning starters, second-year Vivek Venkataraman and fourth-year Jake Reckess. The doubles teams have combined to go 49-26, with depth as the strength.
Though a high-placing finish in next weekend's UAA championship tournament likely won't be in the cards, the team should compete with the tough conference much better than in recent memory. Both teams clearly believe in their big-match chances this year, and they showed it against Wheaton last week, clinching wins early in the dual meets. Take the opportunity tomorrow to catch tennis in its final home tune-up and see what a difference a year can make. With another strong recruiting class, I have a feeling we'll be saying that again soon.