14 Iowa Conference team titles
PELLA—The Central College men’s tennis team will contend for the Iowa Conference championship, according to sixth-year head coach Steve Tyler.
“I’m optimistic about this season,” said Tyler. “We’re a veteran team with depth. This is our year to compete for the league title. I’m excited to see what we can do.”
The Dutch return seven letterwinners, including four of six starters from the singles lineup and two additional starters from the doubles lineup. Central finished the 2013 regular season tied for third in the conference and placed fourth at the team tournament.
“Our program has been on the verge of breaking through,” Tyler said. “We’ve lost a lot of close matches over the years and it’s time for us to win some of those. Our work ethic is great. The team is on the court and has a great attitude. Now we need to believe we can win. That is the key.
“I expect some big things from this team.”
Central won back-to-back league crowns in 1999 and 2000, but Coe won six consecutive championships from 2001-2006, followed by five consecutive for Luther from 2007-2011. The Kohawks have won the past two titles.
While Coe and Luther are favored to repeat as Iowa Conference champion and runner-up, respectively, Tyler believes that there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
“The results this season are up to us,” said Tyler. “It’s mindset. I truly believe that we can play with the top teams in the conference. We’re good enough. It’ll take peak performances to win some of those matches and I expect peak performances.
“We want to win championships and it starts this year.”
The road to the top begins Sunday against Edgewood (Wis.) at Waverly.
Headlining this year’s squad is sophomore West Adelman, who posted a 10-9 record last spring splitting time between the top two singles spots. Adelman was most comfortable in the No. 2 slot, but earned valuable experience competing against the best in the nonconference season.
“West is as capable as any player in the conference,” Tyler said. “He has the talent and the work ethic, but he needs to believe he can be the best.”
Senior Kyle Freischlag, who has been in the varsity lineup since the day he stepped on campus four years ago, also split time between the top two spots. Freischlag was more of a mainstay at the top spot but finished with a 2-13 record. But after competing in 70 collegiate singles matches, Freischlag will miss at least the first several weeks of the season due to injury. Tyler hopes he is able to return for the first conference match April 5 at Loras.
Adelman and Freischlag teamed up at the top doubles spot, as well, and posted an 11-6 record.
Junior Collin Schares spent most of the season at No. 3, compiling a 9-10 singles record. He was exclusively a singles player.
In the No. 4 slot was junior Tim Kahl, who received the team’s 2013 De Haan Most Valuable Player Award and led the Dutch with a 14-5 singles record. He was 5-2 in conference singles action and closed the season on a three-match winning streak. Kahl is only the third player in program history to receive both the team Newcomer of the Year Award (2012) and MVP Award in his career. The former has been awarded since 2008.
Kahl paired with senior John Seier, who played doubles exclusively, to lead the team in doubles wins with a 12-7 record at No. 2. The No. 2 doubles teams were 5-2 in conference play, a nod to Tyler’s added emphasis on the importance of doubles play.
The final two spots of the singles ladder were occupied by junior Josh Forst and a handful of other athletes. Forst finished the spring season with a 5-3 singles record and an 11-6 doubles record.
But nothing is set in stone. It’s a new season and each and every spot is up for grabs. Tyler believes each returning upperclass player will compete for a starting position.
“It’ll be interesting to see how our lineup shakes out,” said Tyler. “It’s going to be a battle to make the varsity lineup. And people outside the initial six will contribute as well.”
Tyler is assisted by Nick Rohner, who is also in his sixth season on staff. Rohner graduated from Central in 2008 after lettering his junior and senior seasons.
“Nick has been a rock for our program,” Tyler said. “We’re lucky to have him on staff. He puts in a lot of time and effort and it shows in the results.”
The Dutch have both outdoor and indoor courts available on campus. Central’s six outdoor courts west of P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium had a new playing surface installed in 2008, while a new Mondo surface was installed on five courts in 2009 inside H.S. Kuyper Fieldhouse.
The Pella community has two additional outdoor tennis venues located at Pella High School and Pella Christian High School.
The facilities allow for maximum improvement and year-round play.
“Our facilities are excellent,” said Tyler. “The indoor and outdoor courts all aid our program, as does the weight room. The compliment to that is the Pella community. We have as good of opportunity to compete as any other team in the conference thanks to our resources.”
Central plays a slightly lengthier schedule, with two additional competitions. The nonconference schedule features 11 opponents, including Principia (Ill.), Westminster (Mo.) and Missouri Baptist during a spring break trip to the neighboring states.
“We’ve got our hands full with this schedule,” Tyler said. “We play good teams with talented players, which we scheduled to prepare us for the conference season.”
The Dutch open conference play April 5 at Loras and Dubuque before closing the season with four of its final five meets at Pella, including home dates with defending league champion Coe (April 8) and runner-up Luther (April 26).
“Home court advantage definitely gives us an edge and an opportunity,” said Tyler. “We get to prepare as we normally would with a lot on the line. There are no excuses. We have the best chance we’ve had in a long time.”
The top six teams in the regular season standings qualify for the Iowa Conference team tournament May 2, hosted by the top seed.