Absent last year’s seniors Tyler Kinder and Blake Edwards, the Washburn tennis team will look to defend the school’s first-ever MIAA championship. With the new freshmen coming in, Rutger Vliegenberg, junior, explains they may be better than ever.
“I think we have a pretty good team,” said Vliegenberg. “We have new freshmen in and they are doing pretty good. We are better than last year.”
One freshman in particular has already made a major impact. Texas native Ryan Ward teamed up with Drew Hanson, sophomore, in the ITA fall regional. The duo advanced further than any other Washburn doubles team, including the previous year’s regional champion, Vliegenberg and Andrew Plum, junior, falling in semifinals.
“They are doing pretty good replacing the doubles team [Kinder/Edwards],” said Vliegenberg. “They made it to the semifinals in the region, so they’re doing pretty well.”
Ward is one of three freshman to join a very veteran Ichabod group this year. With four returning from last year’s championship team, three juniors and one sophomore, the Bods should be contenders again. The focus now is just getting back into the groove of things, Vliegenberg said.
“I think the closer we get, the more focused we are going to be,” said Vliegenberg. “We’re practicing really hard right now and getting in better shape. We’re all excited.”
Although the Bods are the defending conference champions, they’re not likely to be favored starting the spring season. Instead, conference rival Northwest Missouri, who finished the fall season No. 40 in the nation, looks to be the top team.
The Bods play at Marysville, Mo. this year for what is one of four conference matches on the road. The Bods only play conference opponents Truman State and Fort Hays State at home. But Vliegenberg said this is of no concern.
“Personally, I like going away and sleeping in hotels and everything, but we always play better here,” said Vliegenberg. “People are always watching us and I like that. But it really doesn’t matter, we are strong as a team, and we help each other. If the match isn’t going our way, we are there for each other so we should be fine.”
This may also be the year for Lady Blues tennis. Jennifer Hastert, head tennis coach, wouldn’t mind two conference championships this year.
“That’s what every coach hopes for,” said Hastert. “So I certainly would like for that to happen.”
The Lady Blues return an experienced group consisting of three seniors and five juniors under the leadership of senior captain Julie Huyberechts. With so many losses coming down to splits last year, the Lady Blues are hoping the new year has brought improvement.
“Julie is a fine senior captain and is doing a really good job,” said Hastert. “The girls coming back have plenty of experience, and with every year, a player will develop and hone their skills.”
It appears the Lady Blues will have more at stake in this year’s rivalry match up with the No. 32 Emporia State Lady Hornets. After the Lady Hornets claimed both the singles and doubles championship in the ITA fall regional, they look to be the team to beat.
The Lady Blues’ and Bods’ first action of the season starts Feb. 23 and 24, as they travel to Tulsa, Okla. to take on several opponents. The men’s and women’s teams will face Dallas Baptist and East Central Oklahoma. In addition, the Lady Blues will be up against Eastern New Mexico, and the Ichabods will see Oklahoma Wesleyan.
Following this trip, both teams will be at home for the first half of March.