Bods battle to MIAA championship

Stretch Rutger Vliegenberg, junior, stretches to reach the ball against Johnson County. The match was the last regular season home action for the year. The Ichabods’ MIAA championship gave them the No. 1 seed in the region and the right to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Nathan Miller

A rocky road to a championship is still a championship.

The No. 22 Bods tennis team’s chances of defending the MIAA title for the second year in a row didn’t look good as they fell to conference rivals No. 36 Southwest Baptist 5-3, and No. 35 Northwest Missouri 5-4, just days prior to the start of the tournament. But with a new sense of confidence and a clean slate, the Bods avenged both losses, winning their second-straight MIAA championship.

“Our confidence was just much higher going into the tournament than when we played them before,” said Brad Johnson, junior. “We played well together and things were just clicking.”

The Bods defeated Southwest Baptist 5-3 in the first round. The Bods swept doubles play 3-0 and managed to pull out two wins in singles play with juniors Andrew Plum and Brad Johnson to clinch the match.

“It’s hard to beat competition like that back-to-back,” said Jennifer Hastert, head tennis coach. “I think the losses before the tournament were a good wake-up call. In respect to Southwest and Northwest, it was probably more difficult for them because they just beat us.”

As predicted, all year the conference came down to the Bods and their rivals – the Bearcats of Northwest Missouri. The Bods jumped out to a 2-1 lead after doubles competition and secured the match with victories in singles from juniors Nathan Martin and Rutger Vliegenberg and freshman Ryan Ward. Ward earned MIAA player of the week honors as he extended his win streak to 10 at the No. 4 singles spot and went undefeated the entire weekend in singles.

“Ryan has been amazing for us,” said Hastert. “He went undefeated at the No. 4 spot and has been playing well with Drew [Hanson] all year.”

The Bods’ championship ensured them a No. 1 spot in the region, earning the right to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament this weekend. The Bods will play conference opponent Emporia State Thursday.

The Bods have owned the Hornets name for the past few years and this year wasn’t any different. The Bods didn’t drop a single match, sweeping the Hornets 9-0 April 4. The Hornets went 0-4 in conference play, 10-6 on the year, and were eliminated by Truman State 5-2 in the first round of the MIAA tournament. But the Bods won’t be looking past anyone this weekend.

“Winning the conference, I think, just gives us more confidence,” said Johnson. “But I think we realize how serious each match is and won’t take anyone lightly.”

The Bods, if victorious Thursday, will face the winner of Metropolitan State vs. Nebraska Kearney. The Bods have defeated both potential opponents this year, defeating Metro State 7-0 March 3, and Nebraska Kearney 6-3 March 29.

However, even with only two losses on the year and a conference title, the Bods would not be satisfied if their season were to end this weekend.

“Last year, it was O.K.,” said Johnson. “We won the conference title which has never been done before, but even though we have one of the best records in school history, an early exit this year is not acceptable.”

The Bods fell to Northwest Missouri in the second round of the regional last year, preventing a trip to nationals. This year nationals start May 9 in Altamonte Springs, Fla.