ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
If any Tabor team is dressed for success this season, it may be the men’s tennis team.
Kory Unruh, who succeeded Jim Paulus as men’s head coach for this season, has everyone back from a team that finished second to perennial power Bethany in the KCAC tournament last spring.
Unruh has been head coach of women’s tennis for the past two fall seasons.
“I feel I definitely have an opportunity with this team,” Unruh said. “There’s some talent here-they just need to put it all together. Jim did a good job (last season). They just fell short by a few points of winning the conference championship.”
But the news gets even better.
“I feel we’re actually more stable this year than we were last year with the addition of Scott Friesen, a freshman from Wichita,” Unruh said. “He is a great surprise. He is a solid player with incredibly quick hands. I look to him to impact the team instantly.
“I feel then, we’re solid top to bottom-even more steady and solid from No. 3 down. We should be able to win every match-at least, that’s what I think.”
Heading the list of returnees are Tyler Brown and Mark Breeden, a pair of seniors who made the All-KCAC team by finishing among the top three at the conference tournament. The pair should fill the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots this season, Unruh said.
A third senior, Nate Wienandt, who played No. 5 singles last year, has raised his level of play, too.
“Nate has played really well in preseason,” Unruh said. “He definitely is going to make an impact for us because he has stepped up his game tremendously.
Unruh is expecting a lot of his seniors this spring.
“With four years of experience, they definitely have improved and I think that they finally can taste what they can do-and they want to do it this year,” Unruh said. “I really look to them for leadership and ability to keep the team going.”
Aside from Brown and Breeden filling the top two spots, the competition for team rankings will be tough between Weinandt, Friesen, James Fisher, Ryan Camping, Paul Raugust and Josh Lady. Newcomer Craig Penner rounds out the nine-man squad.
“James Fisher will have a solid impact in singles by the end of the year,” Unruh said. “It will take a little bit to get him around, but he’s worked hard to get better.
“I look for Ryan Camping to be deadly this year. I don’t know how far up he’ll be on our roster, but he’s one of those kids who has the potential to do a lot.
“Paul Raugust is just a solid player and Josh Lady is playing well, too.
“It kind of makes it difficult when you only have six spots,” Unruh said.
Because of his team’s depth, Unruh has the opportunity to allow some players to focus on either singles or doubles rather than play both.
“We have some guys who are just stronger in singles and some who are stronger in doubles,” Unruh said.
Unruh expects Bethany to be the team to beat again this season in the KCAC. Tabor and Friends should be the mostly likely schools to challenge the Swedes’ tradition.
“Bethany definitely is going to be the one to beat,” Unruh said. “The biggest thing when you go against Bethany is the mental aspect. We haven’t won against them for I don’t how long.
“So the guys, especially the seniors, are all thinking about that. It’s a mental barrier that we’re going to break, hopefully. I can guarantee you it will be quite a match.”
Tabor’s talent is so deep this season that the biggest obstacle to their success may be themselves.
“The biggest think we’ll fight is that we think we’re that good,” Unruh said.
To give his team some perspective, Unruh has scheduled early matches against some tough opponents, including nationally ranked Oklahoma Christian as well as Southern Nazarene University and Oklahoma Baptist University.
“It is going to be a humbling experience, but I want to do that-not because we may have a loss, but so I can prepare them (mentally) and they can know where they should be,” Unruh said.
The Bluejays opened their season last Wednesday with an 8-1 win over Hesston College.
Tabor’s first home matches will be triangulars against McPherson and Saint Mary March 31 and Sterling and Bethany April 3.