December 18, 2018

Men’s tennis produces successful season despite youthful roster

For the first time since the 2011-12 season, the Webster University men’s tennis team opened the season without a senior on the roster. As many of the team’s players recognized, overcoming that lack of experience became one of the major challenges throughout the season.

The team’s 2017-18 campaign came to a close with last Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Westminster College to culminate at 9-7, a five win improvement from the previous season. Despite a relatively successful finish, many of the team’s newer recruits recalled numerous surprises that came about over the course of the season.

Tom Shutzman, one of four freshmen on the Gorloks seven-player roster finished his opening season at 5-7 in singles contests. Entering the year, he had high expectations on the overall difficulty of games throughout the season, but cited that as one of the revelations for how the year played out.

“I thought I would get crushed in every match because I had played (in the fourth spot) at my high school as a senior, and here I was playing (in the third spot),” Shutzman said. “Luckily, Division III tennis is not full of powerhouses.”

Such in-game and preparation surprises stem from the team losing multiple core players from last year’s 4-7 group. Senior players Eric Bateman, Carlos Gonzalez, Johnathon Odjo and Ray Robson graduated, which left the team in a position with multiple spots to fill looking into the season. Of the team’s 59 singles contests a season ago, the senior class accounted for 28 of those.

The team looked to Head Coach Mike Seiner, as well as upperclassmen such as sophomore Nicholas Andrade, junior Charles McGhee and sophomore Riley Muren for assistance in preparation for games and the overall experience. Muren agreed that he had stepped up to the challenge.

“I felt the need to help and give guidance during practice,” Muren said. “A lot of freshman always came to me for questions. For me, the biggest task with the freshmen was confidence mainly because two of them were playing in the top three spots. My teammate (Charles McGhee), who was a junior, also stepped up in the leadership with me.”

Such leadership helped the team to post its first winning season since 2016. Shutzman cited the team’s first road trip of the season, a trip to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina as a key turning point for the team’s chemistry and overall bonding. Many of the freshmen stated that they were surprised at how quickly the team was able to create a strong foundation.

“I think we really bonded on that trip, and that was the highlight of the season,” Shutzman said. “Next year’s trip is what I’m looking forward to the most.”

The team enjoyed their most demonstrative victory of the season to that point, a 9-0 rout of Wisconsin Lutheran College to end a 3-1 trip.

The team battled consistency throughout the rest of the season, alternating wins and losses throughout the duration of the year. Just as similar, they have struggled to string together consecutive winning seasons. The last time the men’s tennis team put together back-to-back winning seasons was 2011-12 and 2012-13, where the team went 14-4 and then 19-3 in the following year.

The team is hoping a year of vital experience will be enough to continue familiarizing itself with a winning culture. One player in particular, freshman Courtland Butler, was relatively new to the competitive tennis scene, but said he plans to improve as an all-around player. Butler also brought out some of the major surprises that came along with his first season at the collegiate level.

“Everything was very surprising,” Butler said. “Growing up as a basketball player, I never thought I would play college tennis. I didn’t pick up a racket until my sophomore year of high school. When Coach [Siener] recruited me, I was so shocked, but very thankful to play college sports.”

After a game against a Gorloks number one tennis player, Butler said he began to understand some of the adjustments that needed to be made in order to develop his game. By the end of the season, Butler owned an undefeated 4-0 record in singles contests.

Looking ahead into next season, the team hopes to use the valuable experiences learned from some the aforementioned surprises to produce another winning season. Regardless of what the future holds, for the time being the team holds an aura of positivity. Freshman Zack Bliss, who owned a team-best 10-5 singles record had similar thoughts on his outlook of how this season transpired, and what he anticipates for the future.

“The biggest takeaway for me this season is definitely the new family I made with the team,” Bliss said. “I’m so happy that I was able to come out my first year and have a record like that.”

  

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