19 top-three league team finishes in past 34 years
2015-16 record: 11-8 overall (7-3 fall)
2015 Iowa Conference finish: 4th (4-3)
Starters returning: 3 (Karianna Grindberg, Ashley Maley, Paige Vannausdle)
Starters lost: 3 (Angie Allgood, Anna Bowswer, Megan Davis, )
Letterwinners lost/returning: 6/11
Despite being hit hard by graduation, optimism still runs deep in the Central College women’s tennis team with a young crop of student-athletes preparing for their turn in the spotlight.
Coach Ryun Ferrell watched five seniors walk across the stage at Central’s commencement ceremony in May, ending a four-year run of consistency. The Dutch return 11 letterwinners from last season, but there is still a sense of uncertainty around the program with three starters needing to be replaced.
“Those five were the pillars of our program for four years and now they’re gone,” Ferrell said. “These women that are left need to step up and make a difference. I expect us to be a little young, but hopefully they’re ready for the challenge.”
As the Dutch look to build off of last year’s 11-8 record and fourth-place Iowa Conference finish, there may be some positive things that come with youth and inexperience, according to Ferrell.
“Overall, they have a certain sense of fearlessness,” he said. “They’re not afraid to throw the first punch in a tennis match. I think we have some good talent on this team.”
Central will have to reconfigure all of its doubles pairings after having at least one senior at all three slots. The process of creating these pairings is easier said than done.
“Chemistry is obviously really important in tennis,” Ferrell said. “Essentially, we’ll put three groups together and throw them against the wall and see if it sticks. If it does, great. If it doesn’t, we’ll do it again.”
Ashley Maley, who played No. 4 singles last year, is the leading candidate for the No. 1 spot during the fall season. Central’s top three players from last fall have either graduated or, in the case of junior Kari Grindberg, who played at No.3, studying abroad.
“Ashley’s the one with the seniority so it’s her job to lose,” Ferrell said. “The thing she is going to have to get used to is knowing the ball is going to be a little bigger. She needs to be true to herself and just clean it up a little bit.”
Junior Paige Vannausdle led the team with 11 wins at in singles play last season. She’s likely to climb into the No. 2 slot now.
“She’s ready for the challenge.” Ferrell said. “She’s so tall that she can take two steps in any direction and get to the shot. I think she’ll be fine once we get her going in the right direction.”
The abundance of seniors limited EmmaGrace Walter to just three singles matches in the fall of her freshman season. She blossomed with a 4-2 singles record in the spring and is ready for a bigger role.
“She’s probably the best athlete on our team,” Ferrell said. “She’s got a shot at really being something special. Hopefully, she’ll believe that and go for it as much as she possibly can.”
This year’s lone senior, Morgan Ernst, went 4-1 last season but may be limited due to student teaching responsibilities.
“Nobody works as hard as Morgan in practice,” Ferrell said. “I’m excited to have her around because she’s such a positive influence to have in the program.”
Holly Vander Pol is poised to move into the varsity lineup with a strong work ethic propelling her into her junior campaign.
“Holly wants it really badly,” Ferrell said. “She’s one of our best doubles players because she understands the doubles court so well. I think she’s going to help us a lot this year.”
Junior Alli Brandenburg has only played in two varsity singles matches in her career, but Ferrell believes her contribution to the team goes much deeper than wins and losses.
“I made her a captain because I want her to keep me honest,” Ferrell said. “She’s able to give me a different perspective. She’s gotten to where she is through sheer determination.”
The quartet of Cassidy Bos, Kirsten Jordan, Cheyenne Powell and Jenna Stewart are vying for open spots in the lineup entering their sophomore years.
“With the youth that we have, we can’t leave any stones unturned,” Ferrell said. “There will be a lot of opportunities for our younger players to prove they have what it takes to get it done.”
Three freshmen join the program as it looks to fill a plethora of open spots and Ferrell said they could work into the conversation for playing time.
“They have a lot of athletic ability and experience,” he said. “They should be able to add to our depth right away. I think we can develop them and make them even better.”Â
The Iowa Conference slate increased to eight matches with the addition of league newcomer Nebraska Wesleyan. Outside of conference play, Central travels to St. Peter, Minnesota on September 23 for the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division III Regional.
“It’s not going to be easy, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Ferrell said. “It should be an exciting year.”
Central opens at Knox College (Ill.) and Monmouth College (Ill.) September 3.