On a squad with 14 players and seven seniors, two of the youngest members of the Webster University men’s tennis team made an impact in early season matches.
The Gorloks won both their weekend matches on Saturday, Feb. 16 and Sunday, Feb. 17 in Terre Haute, Ind. The wins over Franklin College (Ind.) and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Ind.) improved Webster’s record to 3-1 on the young season. The back end of the lineup helped pick up the Gorloks. In both matches, the 2 through 6 spots went undefeated in singles play.
Freshman Travis Blair and sophomore Josh Papes went a combined 4-0 in their matches. Papes won his No. 2 doubles match against Rose-Hulman 9-7 with senior Ricky Eaves — who improved to 8-0 overall after winning four matches this past weekend.
Blair compiled a 3-0 trip with a 6-0, 6-2 win at the No. 6 singles slot and an 8-4 victory at No. 2 doubles with Eaves against the Franklin Grizzlies. Versus the Fightin’ Engineers, Blair once again played at the No. 6 position and won 6-2, 6-2.
Blair said his success this past weekend could be attributed to his playing style.
“I always like to play hard,” Blair said. “So, I try to make sure I kept up the intensity throughout the match even though I was playing lower down in the lineup, which is different. But the players were still good, so I had to make sure I kept my game up.”
Coach Michael Siener said he’s been impressed thus far with the freshman’s performance, and Siener believes Papes will build off his experience for his second season.
“For (Blair) to come in and compete with (the seniors), it shows you the time and effort he’s put into his game,” Siener said. “He’s going to give us even more depth. Papes — same thing. (Papes) spent time in high school working with his dad, working with his brother and prepping himself for college. He played really well for us last year.
“With Papes, he’s got a little bit of experience on his side, so I’m hoping that will help him when he’s playing in these matches. Both those guys are going to be an asset.”
Rose-Hulman went 10-7 with a 6-3 mark in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2012, but lost in the conference championship tournament semifinals. Franklin went 8-8 with a 6-2 record in HCAC play, and was also eliminated in last year’s semifinals. Siener said Webster’s ability to defeat teams of this caliber takes a team effort from the Gorloks.
“We’re going to play several teams that have had quality programs here for a long time,” Siener said. “We’re a pretty deep team. This is probably the deepest we’ve ever been talent-wise. Everybody’s got to bring their ‘A’ game and play well that day. If one guy doesn’t play well, we’re going to lose to these teams. With the quality of teams that we’re playing, it makes it more difficult and it puts pressure on your entire team to perform at a high level.”
Webster defeated Rose-Hulman 7-2 in a morning match on Feb. 17. The Gorloks went 5-1 in singles matches and 2-1 in doubles play.
Against the Grizzlies, Webster won 8-1. At the No. 1 singles position, senior Diego Alarcon lost his match 4-6, 7-5, 9-11. Senior Francisco Cortez, in his first match of the season, won his match at No. 2 singles 7-5, 6-3, and his No. 1 doubles match 8-6 with senior Agustin Villalba.
Villalba won his match at No. 3 singles 6-0, 6-1. Eaves won at No. 4 singles 6-2, 6-4, and senior Josh Sellmeyer managed a 6-2, 6-2 victory at No. 5.
Rounding out the rest of the doubles at Franklin for the Gorloks was the No. 3 duo of Alarcon and Sellmeyer, who won 8-1.
Next up, Webster plays Maryville University (Mo.) on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 10 p.m. at the Frontenac Tennis Club. The Gorloks then have a two-match day against North Central College (Ill.) and Dominican University (Ill.) on Sunday, Feb. 24 beginning at 9 a.m. in Naperville, Ill. Siener said the weather at this time of year is a challenge for the Gorloks when training in between matches.
“Some of these teams we’re playing have indoor facilities,” Siener said. “This week is going to be in the 30s. We’re not going to get a lot of tennis reps in for practice this week, so we’ve got to be creative with what we do — use the gym space, also working on our fitness. There’s things we’ll try to do to keep getting better even though we can’t get outside and hit a bunch of tennis balls around. … We’ll play better teams than we played this past weekend.”