By Philip Kiely
Last weekend, the Grinnell men’s tennis team won the Midwest Conference Tournament for the fourteenth consecutive year. The team continued its legacy of success, beating Lawrence in the semifinals and Lake Forest in the finals. They will advance to the national tournament to compete against the best of the Division III teams on May 12.
“Every team head-to-head match begins with three doubles matches and six singles matches, so it’s best of nine. You need five points to clinch a win,” said Will Hamilton ’17.
While they faced stiff competition in the singles matches, the momentum from winning the first three doubles matches pushed the Pioneers to victory.
“We swept the first three doubles in the final match against Lake Forest, which I think was the deciding factor in the win. Lake Forest was going to win four, potentially five of the singles matches, but luckily Cole [Miller ’17] and Ben [Cobin ’20] picked up two singles wins for us so we won five-three,” Hamilton said.
During the singles matches on Saturday, three of the six players in the lineup were seniors. All of the seniors made it to the finals and three Pioneers won individual conference titles.
“Our number one [in singles] is Cole Miller, he ended up winning. Our number two guy got to the semifinals. Number three was Tommy [Pitcher ’17], he got to the finals. Number four was Zach Lane [’19], he won his tournament, so he’s a conference champion. Number five was me, I got to our finals. Our number six was Ben Cobin, and he also won his tournament,” Hamilton said.
On Sunday, the team did not ease up the pressure in the doubles brackets.
“All three of our doubles teams made it to the finals. Our number two doubles team got second, Ben Cobin and I teamed up to win the third flight,” Hamilton said.
While dominating the Midwest conference is nothing new for the team, there was a change this year: a new coach.
“[Coach Paige Madara] been a very great coach and she’s been learning on the job. She grew just as much as we did this season,” Hamilton said.
One thing that Madara has focused on this season is the mental aspect of tennis. The long, intense matches require focus and mental strength.
“Personally, one thing I’ve noticed is that tennis is a very mental sport, it requires a lot of mental fortitude because matches take a long time. … [Madara is] really good at building you up mentally and teaching you ways to develop mental strength and overcome adversity,” Hamilton said.
This was critical in the final round of the team faceoff last Friday.
“Her work in that field helped us a lot in that final match when there was a lot on the line, and Lake Forest, all of them played probably the best tennis of their career,” Hamilton said.
Fortunately, the team persevered and is heading to nationals. Although they do not know who they will be facing or where they are going, they are already preparing for the big weekend.
“Our priority right now is making sure that everyone is physically healthy and taking this weekend to get ahead on studies. I think that going into nationals it’s just fine-tuning things, picking out weaknesses in our game that we saw last weekend,” Pitcher said.
Team competition for nationals begins on Friday, May 12. If they are successful, they will play again Saturday, and if the team wins again, the finals are on Sunday. While the Pioneers have not made it past Saturday matches in the last three years, they are eager to do so this year.