The Grinnell men’s tennis team headed up to St. Peter, Minn. this past weekend for the ITA Midwest Regional tournament – an invitational tournament featuring the Midwest’s best Division III teams. Cole Miller ’17 and Jose Coloma ’19 both advanced to the fourth round of the main singles draw, while Miller and Tracy Johnson ’16 made it to the third round of the main doubles draw.
“A lot of people got … to the third round, which is really impressive. It’s probably the best tournament showing I’ve seen out of my tenure here so far,” Miller said.
Unlike most of the team’s competitions, the ITA tournament is an individual, rather than team, event. To ensure a high level of play, the tournament is invite-only. These differences from normal tournaments allow members of the team to stack their abilities up against some of the finest players in the region. Given this level of competition, head coach Andy Hamilton ’85 viewed the weekend as a success.
“The fact that we got two players into the round of 16 … I think is a really nice statement. It means we’re playing in that upper echelon of the schools from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa,” he said.
The team was particularly happy about the challenge of the playing top competition, especially in comparison to their conference matchups.
“The level of play at the ITA tournament is a lot higher than the level of play in our conference [because] you actually have to be invited to the tournament,” Miller said. “There were only a few teams in our conference who were invited, most of them were not.”
CJ Ray ’16, one of the team’s captains, believes this competition helped them prepare for the upcoming season, as the Pioneers now feel they can prevail against some of their tougher opponents, like Carthage College, Coe College and Carleton College.
Additionally, the rapid-fire pace of the tournament, featuring five rounds over the course of just two days, provided a great physical challenge to start the season.
“If you’re playing in both singles and doubles, you could play four matches in one day. That’s what I did, and I was cramping really hard by the end. Then you have to play at 9 a.m. again the next day, so you have to be really physically fit to win,” Miller said.
Hamilton agreed that the short time between matches was a challenge but added that Grinnell was at a disadvantage relative to the other schools due to their Conference’s rules about off season practice.
“We’re at a disadvantage because the Midwest Conference rules are more limiting, so other schools … are practicing two hours a day, six days a week … and we practice four [hours] a week. That’s troubling,” Hamilton said.
However, Hamilton was overall very encouraged by the results of the tournament and their implications for the spring season.
“We took 16 players, [while] a lot of teams might have four or five kids playing. We got a chance to play six new first-years. For the spring, it gives an idea of who our players are and how good they are, and it also … gives us a glimmer of how talented we are,” he said.