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ISSUE 118 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/18/2005

St. Thomas rolls over tennis

By Ken Foote
Executive Editor

Friday, March 18, 2005

In sports, it is generally advantageous to win the last match before a long layoff. Unfortunately, the St. Olaf men’s tennis team will enjoy no such luxury.

Hoping to extend their conference winning streak to three games before taking nearly three weeks off, the Oles proved no match for a powerful St. Thomas squad. Although there were several close calls in the 8-1 defeat, the only St. Olaf win came from number three doubles, with Drew Erie ’08 and David Gruner ‘08 teaming up to prevent a Tommie sweep.

St. Thomas was especially dominant in singles competition. Of the six matches, Tommie players dropped only one set, a 6-4 decision to Mike Matsuura ’06 at number three singles

However, the Oles are just the latest MIAC team to find out how strong this St. Thomas team is. The Tommies are 4-0 on the young season and have won 34 of a possible 36 singles and doubles matches.

“[St. Thomas] won because they were the harder-hitting team and they out served us,” Matsuura said. “St. Thomas and Gustavus are the two toughest teams in our conference.”

Another thing that separates the Oles from St. Thomas is the experience level each team puts out on the court. Nine of the 14 St. Thomas varsity tennis players are upperclassmen, while the St. Olaf roster features ten underclassmen and only two upperclassmen, both juniors. Four of the Oles’ top six players are first years, a difficult position for collegiate rookies.

The young Oles have managed to start the MIAC season 2-2, with one loss coming to perennial national powerhouse Gustavus. With the hardest section of their schedule in the rearview mirror, the Oles face a slate of very winnable matches in April. But, if the men look to improve upon last year’s seventh-place regular season finish, they must use their three-week hiatus to their advantage.

Even though head coach Scott Nesbit will not be with the men over the break – he will be in South Carolina coaching the women‘s squad – and the team will not hold formal practices, Matsuura, the team‘s captain, insists there are ways to continue improving.

“We have a really young team,” Matsuura said. “We have to work on concentration, staying in the match mentally and improving our consistency. These sort of things improve with time.”

The men spring back into action on April 1 against Concordia, inside the friendly confines of the Owatonna Indoor Tennis and Fitness Club.

The Oles defeated Concordia twice last season, including a 5-4 thriller in the conference tournament. The match secured a fifth place finish in addition to providing a rousing end to the team’s season.

The Cobbers should prove to be a tough opponent and a valuable measuring stick for how far this year’s Oles have come over the course of the season. The Friday night match starts at 6:30 p.m. in Owatonna, Minn.

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