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ISSUE 117 VOL 15 PUBLISHED 4/9/2004

Tennis set for foes

By Joel Stjernholm
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 9, 2004

Despite outstanding performances by brothers Ted and Tom Nagel '04, the St. Olaf men's tennis team fell 6-3 to UW-Eau Claire and 5-4 to Luther.

The scores alone, however, are not indicative of recent Ole tennis performance. In the close Luther match, the Oles lost two matches in tie breakers and the tandem of Chase Donaldson '07 and David Harris '07 eeked out a win in doubles competition.

"We played really strong tennis," Harris said. "We did a good job of setting up points and playing all the way through."

This was the second time the Oles took on UW-Eau Claire this season. The first time the two teams met, the Oles won 5-4 with their full roster. Byron McDonald '07 was ill and out of the lineup this time around, depriving the squad of a key participant.

The team's recent competitive woes do not reflect their progress this year. The team has improved substantially since the end of fall practices.

"These guys are good players," head coach Scott Nesbit said. "They're going to get better."

The team's greatest obstacle is not work ethic, competitive drive or lack of unity. With only three seniors on the team, youth and inexperience has become the squad's greatest challenges.

"It's tough to play in the MIAC with a team as young as ours," Nesbit said. "Most players in college tennis are fairly evenly matched. Matches generally go to the player who is a step quicker. Experience is the best way to gain that step."

A recent spring break trip to Florida has helped the young team gain match experience, confidence and consistency.

"The trip was a great time for players to build team unity, gain match experience, and develop aspects of their games that are tough to work on in conference play," Nesbit said.

The team played full matches against Arkansas' Ouachita Baptist and Florida's Palm Beach Atlantic and Webber International. UW-Eau Claire also made the trip south as did Ohio's Otterbein, who played a partial match against the Oles.

Each team, except Eau Claire, has an international recruiting program, and Ouachita Baptist and Webber International offer full and partial scholarships for tennis players.

"We don't generally play teams like that in Minnesota," Nesbit said. "That kind of experience is valuable as we look at the end of our schedule and toward the conference tournament."

The Oles won two of their five matches on the trip, impressive given that their opponents were top Division II and III teams.

Although they fell 9-0 to Ouachita Baptist, 8-1 to Webber Atlantic, and 7-0 to Palm Beach Atlantic, Ole players defeated UW-Eau Claire in a thrilling 5-4 match, and played well in a 5-4 victory over Otterbein.

"We played some great teams in Florida," McDonald said. "We played for at least four hours each day."

McDonald, who won a pivotal match in the team's win over UW-Eau Claire, also commented on how getting outside introduced a new set of factors to adjust to.

"Until Florida, we hadn't played many matches outside, so we hadn't dealt with factors like wind, sun and temperature - factors we'll have to deal with as our matches move outdoors," McDonald said.

Looking forward to the remainder of their schedule, Ole tennis players hope to use matches against Hamline, Macalester and St. Mary's to hone their skills in preparation for the April 23-24 MIAC Championship Tournament.

National tennis powerhouse Gustavus is expected to win the tournament without difficulty, but the Oles hope to defeat some teams that gave them trouble earlier this season.

"Beating Gustavus will be tough, but we'll take a good shot at St. Thomas and Carleton," McDonald said. "We'll be in top form at tournament time."

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