Despite top singles player junior Tyler Rice falling in a tiebreaker, the St. Thomas men’s tennis team topped Concordia-Moorhead 8-1 Friday night at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center.
Freshman Mitch Blackey and senior Drew Carlson led a dominating doubles performance, winning their match 8-1, while Rice and junior Andrew Michels won 8-3, and freshman Brendan O’Connell and junior Kevin Walker got the sweep at 8-6.
“We’re a pretty solid team,” said Terry Peck, who is in his 20th year as head coach for St. Thomas. “We’re a little younger, playing three juniors, two sophomores and two freshman in the lineup, but we’re a very deep team. That’s our strength right now.”
To use that depth to his advantage, Peck is rotating eight to 10 doubles players to keep them fresh and aid in each player’s development. As a result, Peck is looking for bigger and better things this year.
“We’ve always made the playoffs in our conference, but our goal is to be No. 1, to finish at the top,” he said.
Rice said his goals won’t change after making the All-Conference team in his first two seasons.
“I’m trying to get it my third year, but it’s more of a team thing than an individual thing,” he said. “It’s early in the season, very early, but we’ve got a good, solid team. So we’re looking to do pretty well in the MIAC this year.”
Although both Carleton and Gustavus remain nationally ranked, Drew Carlson, the lone senior on the team, said he likes his team’s chances competing at the top.
“Gustavus graduated nine of their top 10 players last year, so they’re definitely a lot weaker than last year,” he said. “We only lost one player, brought in a couple more, so we’re a lot stronger, and we had real close matches with Carleton last year.”
Playing away from home
This year is a little bit different for Peck and his players as they’ve been left without any home courts due to the construction on the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, which will be completed in August.
“We’re positive about [not having access to courts on campus],” Peck said. “We’re very thankful for anything that we get. St Thomas supports us with being able to go other places. It’s just a little different when you’re playing and practicing on different surfaces.”
Peck said getting acclimated to different playing surfaces ramps up focus and allows players to get a taste of tournament action.
“We get mental toughness,” he said. “We do the best we can and keep working at it.”
Rice and Carlson are also trying to make the best of the change.
“It’s almost kind of a bonding thing with the drive over together and spending more time together as a team,” Rice said. “It is tough, though, we have to drive over here every single day.”
On the other hand, Carlson finds benefit in using a bigger school’s facilities.
“These courts have been better courts than we’ve been playing on in recent seasons, so it’s nice to play where the U plays,” Carlson said. “It would also be nice to have courts at St. Thomas.”
The team will look to continue its run against St. John’s at 3 p.m. Feb. 21, at Baseline Tennis Center.
Patrick Stumpf can be reached at email@example.com.