Photo by Kate Nuelle
While much of the country dealt with the typical January cold, the men’s tennis team kicked off the 2020 season on Jan. 16 under the tropical sun of Hawaii. They played four matches against Hawaii Pacific University, the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) Colleges and Pacific (Oregon) University.
The Tigers walked away with wins against CalTech and Pacific and losses against Division II team Hawaii Pacific and CMS, who is ranked second nationally in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Tennis pre-season poll — though sophomore Christian Settles and first-year Hao Nguyen defeated CMS in doubles. Head coach Russel McMindes was pleased with the team’s performance in Hawaii.
“I was impressed with our readiness,” McMindes said. “The way [the team] competed as a unit, the actual performance looked very good, especially when you consider it was right at the beginning of the season. That was very encouraging to me. We saw some things we want to adapt and get sharper with the execution of things, basic principles of play that naturally occur when you go through practices — we hadn’t had any practices yet — and more match play where you can iron things out.”
The team started off with a strong performance, despite the season’s unconventional start. McMindes explained it was unusual to play the first match in Hawaii and compete against Division III teams right off the bat. He also said that the season started earlier than ever before.
“This was a unique — completely unique is the best word I can use — experience for a lot of reasons,” McMindes said. “One, we’ve never started this early. Jan. 15 is when the NCAA allows you to begin organized activities. Usually, we wait until classes start and give them a little bit of time to get accustomed to their schedule, and then we start practice. It’s usually two weeks on before we have any competition. So this year we traveled on the [first] day we were allowed to and were competing the next day.”
However, the team didn’t stumble out of the gates completely unprepared. According to Settles, the team held unofficial practice before the season officially started.
“There’s an NCAA rule, that you can’t actually have a mandated practice by the coach before Jan. 15, but we talked as a team and made arrangements to all be on campus three days before, so we all came back early because we wanted to be together and practice as a team and really get some team bonding in before the trip,” Settles said. “I think that was really important because it was all student initiative… So that was really cool because it got everybody on the same page right from the start.”
Outside of the early start, it was unusual for the tennis season to start off with the Tigers playing against Division III teams. The norm is to begin the season with matches against Division I and Division II teams in order to iron out line-ups and get gameplay experience without the added pressure of the results affecting the team’s ranking.
After Hawaii, the Tigers returned to Texas to face Division I team Texas A&M-Corpus Christi for back-to-back matches on Jan. 25. The team saw some success in the doubles matches with juniors Wilson Hamilton and Jace Akagi-Okuma winning their match, and junior Cameron Krimbill and first-year Cal Hunter winning their match as well. Despite falling short in the overall match count, Krimbill holds a positive outlook on the team’s performance against the Islanders.
“I think the team’s overall performance was amazing. Although we didn’t get the result we wanted, we went out and competed extremely hard. I think that this team is very special, and when we are all working together, we can do anything that we put our minds too,” Krimbill said.
The team used the matches against Corpus Christi as an opportunity to experiment with new doubles pairings and allow the team’s first-years to play in low-pressure games. According to Krimbill, it is important to find different pairings.
“[We] are starting to find pairings that work well together, but we also are working to find new pairings that work well in the case of someone being injured or getting sick. We always want to make sure that we can put three doubles teams on the court that can help us get the result,” Krimbill said.
The Tigers’ season continues with a road trip to face Abilene Christian University on Feb. 8 before they host their first home match of the year on Feb. 14 — Valentines Day — against St. Edwards University.