Title defense will challenge Bluejay tennis team

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Coming off the school’s first conference championship in men’s tennis, Tabor College coach Lonnie Isaac knows the road ahead may be a bumpy one.

With the loss of five all-conference selections from that team, Isaac will look to the talents of a young but unproven group of athletes to defend the KCAC title.

“We graduated three seniors and lost four other players to various other situations,” Isaac said. “But our goal as a team is still to qualify for regionals because we’ve done that the last four years.”

Isaac looks to the talent and leadership abilities of two proven players and the team captains, Jon Adrian and Scott Friesen, as the nucleus of this year’s squad.

“Jon has played No. 1 singles the first few matches for us this season, but he and Scott are going to really be interchangeable,” Isaac said. “I’ve been pleased with how both of them have played.”

Adrian, a junior from Hesston, was a conference champion at No. 6 singles last season and No. 3 doubles.

“He has a good all-around game but he needs to get used to the step up from 6 to 1,” Isaac said. “It’s a big jump but I think he’s capable of it.

“He’s very competitive and by the time we get to conference matches I feel he’ll be comfortable enough to do a really good job.”

Friesen, a senior from Wichita,was an anchor on the No. 1 doubles team last year and will assume that role once again this spring.

“Scott is undoubtedly the best serve and volleyer we have on our team,” Isaac said. “Scott and Jon are clearly our two strongest players and form our No. 1 doubles team.”

Stepping into the middle of the Bluejay lineup this spring are Andrew Braun, a sophomore from Newton, and Tim Hein, a senior from Hillsboro.

“Andrew is a situation where because of the strength of our team last year, just didn’t get a lot of playing time,” Isaac said. “We’re hoping he’ll be a solid player for us in the middle. He has good strokes but he needs to learn how to win matches.

“This is really the first time he’s played in college matches.”

Hein comes into the program after exhausting his eligibility with the Bluejay baseball team.

“Tim is a fifth-year senior and we brought him in because we feel like he can help us,” Isaac said. “The last time he played tennis was as a senior in high school and he finished eighth in the state in singles.”

Isaac served as Hein’s coach during his Trojan playing days and said he knows the type of competitor Hein is.

“He hates to lose,” Isaac said. “He doesn’t have a lot of powerful strokes, but he keeps the ball in play and really keeps after it.”

Rounding out the singles roster are Caleb Dirks, a freshman from Durham, and Jesse Janzen, a sophomore from Hillsboro.

“Caleb was a lot like Andrew (Braun) in that he didn’t get a lot of match play or practice due to the strength of our team,” Isaac said. “I think both Caleb and Jesse are guys that can be good solid players for us, though.”

Rounding out the eight-man squad will be Matt Nelson, a sophomore from Gillette, Wyo. and Jared Reese, a sophomore, from Nardin, Okla.

Both athletes were members of Tabor’s KCAC championship basketball team this winter.

“Both of these guys have the ability to really help strengthen our team,” Isaac said. “Hopefully, they can add some depth for us.

“Once they get comfortable hitting the ball again, I think they might be able to work their way into doubles competition.”

Nelson, according to Isaac, was a state qualifier in Wyoming during his high school career.

Isaac said last year’s conference championship is paying dividends in his recruiting efforts.

“It’s definitely a recruiting tool,” he said. “Now that I’m on campus full time, it makes a difference, too.

“That difference won’t necessarily be felt until next year and the years to come, but just the time I have to devote to recruiting helps,” he added. “On-campus visits by prospective students are now a priority, whereas I used to have to schedule them around other things.”

Isaac said Tabor’s athletic facilities are a definite advantage in recruiting.

“Our weight room, campus recreation center, fitness center, and our new training facility are right up there with anyone else in the conference,” he said. “In addition, our indoor practice facility combined with our recent championship has really made an impression on some kids.”

While not conceding the conference title, Isaac said the definite favorite this spring is Bethany College.

“They brought in a Swedish player who bumped their No. 1 down to No. 2 and they return an awful lot,” he said. “I think it’ll be a battle for that second spot, and I think we’re capable of competing for that spot.”

Isaac said the heavy loss his team suffered since last year didn’t go unnoticed by other conference schools.

“Most coaches are kind of writing us off because of the number of players we lost,” he said. “But that’s fine because I’d rather not be looked upon as the favorite. Maybe we can sneak in on some of them.”

Isaac said he’s recently taken notice of area junior college talent, but as with all recruits, he has to match student-athletes with what Tabor College stands for.

“It’s important we’re up front with the kids and their parents when it comes to what’s expected of them if they choose to attend Tabor College,” he said. “We’re going after kids who we think can make a difference on the tennis courts, but we also look for kids that are going to be good role models on campus and be good academically.”

‘”We have to make sure our athletes buy into the overall atmosphere and beliefs of Tabor College.”

Isaac said while the talent level of the team this year isn’t what it was last season, he hopes those deficiencies can be overcome in other areas.

“We aren’t in the top two or three in the conference with our talent,” he said. “So we need the kids to really focus in practice and have them commit to doing things outside of practice.

“We’ll have to outwork the other teams.”

Resurfacing the on-campus tennis courts and upgrading the fences surrounding those courts are on Isaacs’ wish list, but overall he’s satisfied with the direction the Tabor tennis program is heading.

“I think it’s just a matter of having a good foundation of players,” he said. “There’s no reason to think that we can’t consistently compete for a conference title once we get that foundation laid.”

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