With first-year coach John Ruder at the helm, the Tabor College tennis teams will look to build on last year’s season.
The Bluejay women finished second in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference with a 4-2 record and were 9-5 overall; the men finished third at 4-2 and were 8-8 overall.
Ruder brings 28 years of coaching experience to Tabor, his first collegiate job. Prior to moving to Kansas, Ruder led the tennis team at Denton Ryan High School in Texas.
“I always wanted to coach at a Christian college, so when I saw the opportunity to coach here, I really fell in love with the school and wanted to be here,” he said.
With only six players on the roster—three sophomores and three juniors—a key for the Tabor women will be to avoid injury.
“You need six (to fill a lineup), and we’ve got six, so we can’t have any injuries or anything take anybody away,” Ruder said. “We would still be able to play, but we’ll always lose whatever matches they would play.”
Anchoring the team will be sophomores Becky Faber and Anna Friesen, who compete in the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions, respectively, and partner in No. 1 doubles.
“We don’t have any of big power players,” Ruder said. “They’re baseline and consistent players that keep the ball in play.
“They just get a lot of balls in play and work really hard, and I think that they’re developing more power in their game, but we’re not real big physically so that’s not going to be our strength overall.”
Team captain Katie Becker, a junior, will help pace the Bluejays.
“She’s a great leader,” Ruder said. “She plays No. 5 for us, but she’s kind of the leader of our team.”
Rounding out the team are juniors Karly Lindroth-Yates and Meredith Voran, and sophomore Krista Schmidt.
With five matches already played, Ruder said his team is competitive but will need to reduce errors and be more consistent as the season progresses.
“We’re making too many errors, so we need to tighten our game,” he said. “Consistency is going to be their key.”
Looking ahead to conference play, Ruder said: “We’re going to be in the middle somewhere. If we can keep them all healthy, I’m hoping we can finish fourth. But realistically we’re probably going to end up fifth or sixth.”
Ruder commended the Bluejay women for their work ethic and desire to learn.
“They’re working real hard, and very coachable,” he said. “I’ve seen lots of improvement already in their play.
“All the way, one through six, they’re just eager to learn about tennis, so they’re soaking up a lot of things about tactics and so on. I think that is going to pay off as we go through the season.”
Four seniors anchor the Tabor men and bring experience to the court this season. Leading the way will be David Simmet at the No. 1 spot.
“He’s just got a good all-around game—good attitude, good leader, kind of a solidifying force on our team,” Ruder said.
Nate Panttaja will also be a key piece of the puzzle.
“He’s just a real solid player,” Ruder said. “He plays No. 4 for us, and we can always count on him to give us a good match.
“He just works real hard.”
Twins Jake Brucks and Sam Brucks round out the senior core and are expected to contribute in No. 5 and 6 singles, respectively.
“Sam and Jake are a great doubles team,” Ruder said. “They play our 5 and 6 positions, and you can always count on them to give us a good effort.”
Juniors Kelyn Vix and Tyler Dort complete the top six, competing in the No. 2 and No. 3 positions.
“We’re solid one through six,” Ruder said. “Our strength is we have good depth all the way through all six positions.”
Completing the roster are sophomores Darryn Davis and Jared Friesen.
With experience and depth, Ruder hopes for a solid season.
“I think we’ve got a bunch of players who can really develop a solid, consistent game,” he said. “We just need to tighten up our game so we’re not making so many errors.
“That’s what’s hurting us right now, but we’re playing close matches and have been in several matches that could’ve gone either way.”
Thus far, the Tabor women hold a 1-5 record, while the men are 1-6.
“We’re a really solid ground-stroke team, and we’re getting better at that,” Ruder said. “We’re very competitive. They like to play, and they don’t quit.”