Tennis teams look toward a busy season

John Andrews

John Andrews

At this time of the year, tennis is probably the farthest thing from most people’s minds. But the South Dakota State University men’s and women’s tennis team have been hard at work for over a month getting ready for their season.

The Jacks have already played two matches, and while they do count in the standings, head coach Don Hanson calls them preliminary matches.

“We just go out and play whoever we can play,” Hanson said. “We don’t really worry about them, we just go play them. Our season really begins about mid-March.”

The February matches are used primarily to gear up for the season because of the lack of training facilities at SDSU. The teams practice on the track area at Frost Arena but can only use it after intramurals get over. That means they practice two or three nights a week and sometimes go until midnight.

Their schedule of matches for the season shows about 27 matches between the men and women. Only one of those is slated to be played in Brookings. That will be at Hillcrest Courts. Because of this schedule, Hanson has given his team a nickname.

“We are the Road Warriors,” Hanson said. “We’re on the road all the time. It’s tough.”

Despite the tough schedule, Hanson is looking forward to what he thinks will be a competitive season.

“I’m really excited,” Hanson said. “By conference time, I think we’ll be real tough.”

Hanson has good reason to be excited. He has young, yet experienced teams on both the men’s and women’s side. Sophomore Ben Barnes is the top-ranked player on the men’s team. Last year, Barnes took third in the North Central Conference Senior Thomas Chiu, junior Aaron Rothenberger and freshman Jeff Everson round out the top four. There are seven others who compete for the final two spots on the varsity squad each week.

With the exception of one player, the women’s team is identical to last year’s team. Junior Sarah Everding currently holds the top spot. She is followed by juniors Alissa Lambertz, Jennifer Tidwell and Julie Johnson. Every week, five other players try to grab the final two varsity spots.

SDSU will be busy with matches nearly every weekend leading up to the NCC championship tournament in Omaha, Neb., the last weekend in April. Hanson said that for the first time, the NCC tournament is a national qualifying event. That means the NCC winner will advance to the national finals.

Besides looking forward to the competitive part of the season, Hanson is also looking forward to working with the athletes.

“State’s got a really wonderful group of young people, outstanding sports people, work their guts out with very little facilities and represent this school as well as any team that’s ever going to represent this school,” Hanson said. “I’m really proud of them and I love being associated with them.”