As the Tabor College women’s and men’s tennis teams enter the KCAC portion of their schedule the last week of March, coach John Ruder feels both teams have the potential to make an impact in the conference.
The women are 1-1 so far and 7-5 overall, following a win over Bethany and a loss to McPherson. The men’s team is 0-2 in the KCAC with 0-9 record for the season.
Though the men’s success has been limited, Ruder is seeing potential with his seven-man roster.
“I’m pleased with both teams, because they have great effort, they’re coachable, just really good kids,” Ruder said. “It’s a pleasure to coach them because there aren’t very many problems.”
Court experience is a key advantage for the Tabor women.
“The women’s team is much more experienced than the men’s team—and they’re having more success,” he said. “I have four seniors on my women’s team—and that, of course, is a good base.
“I have only two seniors on my men’s team, so they’re struggling a little, but they’re playing better every match,” he said. “I’m really pleased with them.”
Ruder’s No. 1 on the men’s team, junior Angel Miguel, has won his last three matches at No. 1.
“That’s been good—he had been losing three-set matches, so it wasn’t like he was out of any matches. He was right there.
“But he’s finally gained that confidence that’s going to carry into a conference and do well” Ruder said. “There are a couple of really tough men’s teams that will really challenge him, but I think against the rest of the teams he should do real well at No. 1.”
Ruder’s roster has two seniors, two juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen.
“They’re playing well, they’re in a lot of matches, they’re just not closing them out,” he said. “That gives you hope that in the future that will happen.
“The two seniors (Francisco Gallinal and Stephen Wilson) that are graduating this year are great kids. “They’re contributing well and playing well, but we’re just young.”
Ruder is hoping the men’s team will make an impact in KCAC play.
“I think we’ll pick up some wins in conference,” he said. “There are some teams that we’re at the point now that we can beat. They just have to keep a good attitude.
“I always tell them, there’s two things you can control—your effort and your attitude. They’re doing a good job with both of those. I told them, if you learn to do those two things, the rest will come.”
Six of the 10 KCAC schools have tennis teams. Only six qualify for the conference tournament.
“We have a chance to get in there, but they’re going to have to battle through and win all the matches that they can win. They have to get into that top six, but there’s a possibility for that. I’m very proud of them.”
The Bluejay women have a court-tested roster of three seniors, two juniors, two juniors and one freshman.
“We’re kind of on the opposite side (of success) We’re 7-5 right now, two of the losses were to D-2 teams that were pretty solid. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. We’ve only lost to one NAIA team we’ve played. So that’s a strength that we have.”
Leading the women’s team is senior Jessica Emoto, has been ranked as high as sixth in the NAIA this season and was ranked 12th at the time of the interview.
“Unfortunately, the way you move up is playing players who are higher than you, and in the central region, she’s the top player,” Ruder said. “So she usually doesn’t play players who are better than her.”
“This season she beat the No. 9 juco player in the nation, so that should count for something,” he added. “But 12th in the nation is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Beyond her skills on the court, Emoto is a great team leader, according to her coach.
“She’s just a great young lady—she just got accepted into medical school at KU,” Ruder said. “She was the one woman from NAIA tennis that was given the Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship and Leadership Award. She went to New York City and helped in the Arthur Ashe’s Kids Day the day before U.S. Open.
Emoto’s only singles loss this season came against Washburn University and she has been the top KCAC player for the past three years, having lost only one match in her conference career.
Emoto plays doubles with junior Mandi Hiett, who plays No. 5 singles; the duo is ranked No. 9 in the ITA central region.
“They’re not ranked nationally because they haven’t beaten anybody at that level yet—but they probably could in conference, because we have a couple of nationally ranked doubles teams.”
Playing No. 3 singles is senior Heidi Klaassen.
“She’s a solid doubles player and a good singles player for us,” Ruder said. “This is her fourth year. She was an honorable mention all-KCAC last year. I think she’s going to have a really good season for us.”
Ruder’s third senior, Lindsey Stroud), played some doubles and some singles.
“She’s great young lady and I love her to death and she gives you all she’s got on the court,” Ruder said. “She’s a good leader on the team, and does a lot of the things you expect a senior to do. She’s having a good year, but she’s more of a role player for us.”
Junior Naima Mexsen plays No. 2 singles for Tabor and is playing well.
At No. 4 is Olivia Brubacher, who joined the tennis team after playing basketball for Tabor this winter.
“We just barely got her back,” Ruder said. “She’s played in four of the matches we’ve had—No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles. She’ll definitely help us in conference.”
Tessa Isaac plays No. 6 singles.
“She’s a sophomore, and one of the most competitive players you’ll find,” Ruder said. “She has come from behind many times in her career to win matches that you thought she had lost. She just battles. She’s going to pick up some wins at No. 6 that are going to be critical to our success.”
As for conference play, Ruder believes his women’s team has a shot at the title.
“I think the top four teams are really close,” Ruder said. “But if we play well we could do it. I think we have the attitude, the leadership and the experience now to go out and be able to do it.”
Tabor will be hosting Oklahoma Wesleyan University April 7 at the Hillsboro Tennis Complex.