After a 14-4 record in the 2012 season, the Webster University men’s tennis team began 2013 with just one loss in its first seven matches.
The Gorloks did not lose any of their players from last year and have a core group of seven seniors on the team this season. Senior Diego Alarcon said of the four years he’s been at Webster, this is the best group he’s been a part of.
“We have a really good chance,” Alarcon said. “More of the other teams are tough, too, but we have a great team this year. We have all the experience, and I think it will be a great year for all of us.”
Not only does the team have a bounty of upperclassmen, but it has some new faces as well. One of Webster’s top newcomers is freshman Travis Blair, who won the Presidential Scholarship Award last year from Jerseyville High School (Ill.). Blair said the scholarship is given by Webster University, and only five students are ultimately selected for the award.
Coach Michael Siener said what makes Blair so valuable is his ability to play anywhere in the lineup.
“Recruiting him, I knew he was kind of the big piece to us hopefully winning the (St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) championship,” Siener said. “He’s a great student, and he’s going to be a big impact for us.”
Besides Blair, Webster also has fellow freshman Matt Lang and junior transfer student Beau Kolba from Elgin Community College (Ill.). Siener said both Kolba and Lang will compete for the back spots on the team and will help the roster.
The Gorloks’ schedule will present a challenge this year. Webster early on in the season had to play teams in Indiana and Chicago the program has never played before. Furthermore, the Gorloks are going to play against one of the toughest three college conferences in the country in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW). Webster will also go up against Rhodes College (Tenn.), who is in the top 15 in the NCAA Division III South region.
So far, the Gorloks have won four of the matches against top teams they’ve played. However, one of the Gorloks’ toughest parts of the schedule will be when they face off against Washington University — who are currently ranked No. 10 nationally — and conference rival Westminster College (Mo.) in the same week at the end of March. The Gorloks have never played WashU and have never beaten Westminster.
“WashU — they have really good players,” senior Augustin Villalba said. “They are not only good in singles, (but) they have a really good doubles team as well, which is going to make everything even harder. But … we’ve worked really hard working doubles. Everybody is playing well in singles, so I think we’re going to have a good chance when we play them. It’s going to be close (and) it’s going to be a good game, but either of the two teams can win.”
Siener said this is the deepest and most talented team from top to bottom he has ever coached. He said what he likes most is the quality of students he has, both academically and athletically. Webster has 14 men on the roster this season, but they realize it’s about the team and not individual performances.
“It’s an advantage that you have the whole team together,” Villalba said. “We’ve been here for a long time, and it’s like a family — everybody works hard. It doesn’t matter who plays, everybody supports each other and that helps when you’re playing.”
Both Alarcon and Villalba agree it won’t be easy, but they think their team has a great chance to win the conference tournament.
“We know where to go,” Alarcon said. “All of us think that this has got to be our opportunity — this has to be our year.”