In September, the team went to the ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association) Midwest Regional tournament, where Coach Andy Hamilton ’85 was impressed by the play of Sam Raife ’10 and Eric Ritter ’12, who both continued to improve their game to win matches.
But it was Perez who stood out as he reached the quarterfinals, losing to Gustavus Adolphus senior John Kauss, the eventual ITA Division III National Singles Champion. “That was [Perez] beginning to reach his potential,” Hamilton said.
LaFountaine believes Perez’s performance influenced the whole team to strive for more. “Watching him was a blast, even though we were all sitting on the sidelines by that point, ” LaFountaine said. “It really inspired all of us.”
Coach Hamilton has intentionally arranged a challenging schedule of non-conference matches against nationally ranked teams, including Gustavus Adolphus (#8), Washington University (#1) and Kalamazoo (#28).
“We will probably trade some wins for losses by taking this schedule,” Hamilton said. “But our players will be better prepared.”
In Midwest Conference play, where Grinnell is a five time repeating champion, the most challenging foe appears to be Lake Forest College, who finished second in the MWC last year, and have all their starters returning. The strong line-up of either LaFountaine or Perez at number one singles, Fox at number three, Ritter at number four and Raife playing five should present a formidable opponent to any adversary.
In preparing for the future, Hamilton is placing two first-year players in key doubles roles, as Dmitriy Glumov ’11 will pair with Raife for the number three doubles and Martin Dluhos ’12 joins Perez for the number-two team. The number one doubles will be filled by the proven duo of Fox and LaFountaine, who aspire to reach Nationals.
After reflecting on last season, Perez was looking forward to watching the first-years compete, knowing full well the benefits it could have for their abilities.
“I matured so much,” Perez said. “When I played back home I had the talent but I would always have mental breakdowns in the middle of matches that kept me from winning.”
Although the Pioneers have few home matches this season, LaFountaine encourages all to come out and watch.
“This season,” LaFountaine said, “we have the best player to come through our program in Perez, the best doubles player ever in Nate [Fox], and I’ll give myself the title of best entertainer.”