With a mix of returning and new talent, the Tabor College tennis teams are ready to tackle a new spring season under the guidance of third-year coach John Ruder. Both teams are young this year. Each has four underclassmen among its starting six.
Five matches into the season, the women have two wins and three losses, while the men are 1-4.
With four returning athletes and three newcomers, Ruder said the team is looking to challenge for a KCAC championship this season.
Two returning seniors will bring leadership and experience to an otherwise young squad.
Senior Becky Faber was a second-team all-KCAC selection last year and a first-team pick her sophomore year. Faber played No. 1 singles the past two seasons, but will play No. 2 spot this year.
?Becky is an especially good leader, and she?s our captain,? Ruder said. ?She?s just real dependable.?
Senior Krista Schmidt, will return to No. 6 singles this year. ?She gives you everything she?s got all the time and works hard,? Ruder said.
Two sophomores also return: Celeste Worthy will play No. 4 singles this season after filling the No. 3 spot last year; Kiana Fujioka will return at No. 5.
Three freshmen complete the Bluejay roster.
Jessica Emoto comes from Gresham High School (Ore.) and is the team?s No. 1 singles player. She ranks 24th in the NAIA. Emoto and Faber will play No. 1 doubles this season.
?(Jessica?s) just very fundamentally strong and mentally strong,? Ruder said. ?She?s like a wall. She hits everything back.?
Heidi Klaassen, from Arkan?sas City, will fill the No. 3 singles position this year and will join Fujioka in No. 2 doubles.
Newcomer Lindsey Stroud out of Texas, will play No. 3 doubles with Schmidt.
Tabor found early success last fall, earning six top-two finishes at the KCAC individual tournament. In singles, Emoto (No. 1), Klaassen (No. 3) and Worthy (No. 4) finished first, while Faber finished second (No. 2). In doubles, Emoto and Faber (No. 1) and Klaassen and Stroud (No. 2) each placed first.
Ruder said his young team is progressing.
?We?re strong at the top and we?ve got good depth,? he said. ?One of the things I really like is that they?ve really embraced the mental side of the game that we?ve been working on this year.?
The team will seek to earn one of four berths in the KCAC tournament.
With four underclassmen among the starting six, the Bluejays will look to gain experience this year. The team lost Kelyn Vix and Tyler Dort to graduation, a duo that comprised the No. 1 doubles team a year ago and also filled the No. 1 and No. 2 singles positions.
Senior Jared Friesen is the only returning upperclassman on the team. Friesen, who played No. 6 singles last year, has moved to No. 3 this year.
?(Jared?s) just a good, solid person you can depend on (both) on and off the court,? Ruder said.
Three sophomores join Friesen as returners.
Luis Navarrete will play No. 1 singles, having filled the No. 3 spot a year ago.
?(Luis has) improved a lot,? Ruder said. ?His shots are much more solid. He?s more consistent. He?s playing smarter. ?
Harry Faber has moved from No. 4 to No. 2 singles and will join Navarrete in No. 1 doubles. Tabor?s third returning sophomore, Jeff Pritchard, has moved from No. 7 to No. 6.
Three newcomers have joined the team.
Freshman Stephen Wilson will fill the No. 4 singles position as well as join Friesen in No. 2 doubles.
Soccer players Aram Najar and Jeremy Johnson have joined the tennis team for the first time and round out the list of newcomers. A senior, Najar will play No. 5 singles. Johnson, a junior, will play No. 3 doubles with Pritchard.
?They both played tennis in high school, so it?s just that they had never played at the college level,? Ruder said. ?They?re coming along and helping us at the bottom end of our lineup.?
The team will need to learn from every outing.
?The men are playing stronger every week,? Ruder said. ?Our motto is that we either win or we learn. Every bit of experience we get this year will make us even stronger next year.?
Tabor will seek to be one of four teams to earn a KCAC tournament berth.
?To accomplish this, we will have to beat out Bethel, Southwestern, Ottawa and Kansas Wesleyan,? Ruder said. ?Not an easy task, but if we keep improving we have a shot.?