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ISSUE 118 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/25/2005

Competition stifles tennis

By Joel Stjernholm
Sports Editor

Friday, February 25, 2005

It is customary in collegiate athletics for many teams to find weaker opponents to fill the opening slots in their schedules. The reasoning goes that a team with such a schedule will work out problematic tendencies by the time tougher opponents come around.

Defying that conventional strategy, the St. Olaf men’s tennis team opened their indoor season with matches against the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Gustavus and St. Cloud State University, an NCAA Division II school.

St. Olaf played well in their opening match against Eau Claire, despite losing 8-1. Ryan Pederson ’08 won a match for the Oles, and other members of the squad played well, despite losing critical points which could have swung the match in the Oles’ favor.

“We definitely had first match jitters,” Bryon MacDonald ’07 said. “In my mind, Eau Claire is a match we could have won. We beat them last year, and our doubles team is as good as theirs.”

The Gusties, ranked seventh nationally, managed to down the Oles 9-0, as did St. Cloud State. St. Olaf players earned good points during these matches, and ultimately these early season experiences should prepare them for conference opponents down the road.

In addition to a much more challenging schedule, head coach Scott Nesbit has changed the team’s practice schedule to emphasize fundamentals and game situations.

“Coach [Nesbit] is really emphasizing drills this year, and he’s having us play matches every week,” MacDonald said. “It’s a bit different from what we did last year, but I think it will help us. Playing teams like Gustavus and St. Cloud early in the season should have the same effect. We’ll be ready for conference matches.”

The St. Olaf women’s tennis team shared a similar fate against Gustavus, falling to the Gusties 9-0. However, the women held their own against St. Cloud State, losing by a narrow margin of 6-3. Beth Erie ’05 earned a number one singles win for St. Olaf and Jorie Steffen ’07 did the same in the sixth slot. Lauren Benson ’06 and Emily Eggert ‘06 earned a doubles victory over the Huskies as well.

Like their colleagues on the men’s team, the ladies are in the midst of a very difficult early-season schedule. However, their solid play against Gustavus and St. Cloud State should give St. Olaf fans good reason to be excited for the rest of the season. The team hopes that this early experience, paired with good practice time, will prepare them for the stiff competition they will face in the MIAC.

“I wouldn’t say that our future opponents will be easier or harder than Gustavus and St. Cloud,” Elizabeth Greener ’07 said. “But I do think we’re getting much better every day. Coach has been really focused in helping us find our weak spots and correcting them in practice. We’ll fix our mistakes and we’ll be well-prepared for future matches.”

The veteran women’s roster includes only one first-year player and boasts seven juniors and seniors. The Oles will undoubtedly rely on their experience and maturity to gain an advantage over opponents this season.

The St. Olaf women will travel to St. Mary’s Saturday for a 10 a.m. match. The men’s team will play its next match on Friday against St. Mary’s in Winona, Minn. starting at 5:30 pm.

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