By Rachel Kearney
The men’s tennis team is set to begin its spring season after weeks of conditioning and traveling 45 minutes once a week to practice at the nearest indoor courts in Park Forest, Ill.
The Tigers will open their season Feb. 18 in Grinnell, Iowa, where they will take on Grinnell College and Hastings College (Neb.). They will then travel to Florida over spring break where they will play five matches in three days.
While the Tigers took the top four singles and the top two doubles places at ITA Regionals last October, several players said they should be even stronger this spring. And after falling in the first round of NAIA Nationals last spring to William Carey University (Miss.), they are ready to go even further.
“One of our objectives is to win our first match at nationals,” senior Sebastian Esquetini said.
The team will be led this spring by junior Julian Kurz and captains Esquetini and junior Landon Williams. Kurz defeated Williams in the ITA Regional singles championship, while Esquetini and junior Diego Gonsalvez defeated Kurz and Williams for the doubles championship.
One difference the Tigers will face this season will be the addition of conference play. The team join the CCAC this year, which gives them another opportunity to qualify for nationals.
“Our first goal is to win conference to get to nationals,” Williams said. “Last year we were able to qualify with an at-large bid because of our national ranking.”
Williams also explained that because the team will be able to qualify for nationals this year through a conference championship, they are not as worried about their national ranking. Because of this, they are able to play better teams that will help the Tigers improve.
Another change the team is experiencing this season is the addition of Hugo Moriya to the coaching staff. Moriya graduated from Olivet this past May and was the No. 5 hitter for the team last year.
“He’s been doing great,” Gonsalvez said, though he added it was hard to get used to Moriya instructing him in matters like conditioning.
Moriya, a native of Brazil, is one of several Tigers over the years that have come from foreign countries. This year, five out of the 14 players are foreign, and all five are vying to be one of the six varsity players.
Four of these men come from Spanish-speaking countries. The fifth is Kurz who, despite being a native of Germany, is also fluent in Spanish, making Spanish one of the team’s languages. Some of their American teammates have improved their Spanish enough to try to be a part of the Spanish conversation.
It is things like the Spanish-connection that help the team have chemistry, which several players said is an important factor in not just the doubles matches, but singles matches as well.
“You have to play for the team,” Esquetini said.