When the NEWMAC Preseason Coaches Poll was released on Feb. 17, the Springfield College men’s tennis program felt that its ranking was far too low – bordering on being disrespectful.
Although the Pride are coming off of a less-than-ideal 3-11 spring season a year ago, and began the fall season without a head coach after Mike Louis resigned in September, they still believe that they are better than the No. 6 ranking in the seven-team conference.
But being listed that low may be a blessing in disguise, as it has brought a newfound motivation to Springfield.
“We saw the preseason rankings, and we were voted pretty low,” senior David Kilburn said. “But that just fuels the fire for us. We’re ready to prove a lot of people wrong, and play some great tennis.”
The foundation to proving others wrong was already laid out during the unofficial fall season, as Springfield cruised to a 5-2 record, including a three-match win streak. The Pride shutout Western New England 9-0, defeated Colby-Sawyer 6-3, and crushed St. Joseph’s (Conn.) 8-1.
Following that strong fall stint, Springfield also filled the void at the head coach’s position, bringing in former player and graduate Tanner DeVarennes to coach both the men’s and women’s teams in December. During his time playing on Alden Street, DeVarennes was the 2014 NEWMAC Rookie of the Year, as well as earning two all-conference honors.
With the addition of DeVarennes, Kilburn believes that the men’s team is headed for something special.
“(DeVarennes) has changed this team,” Kilburn said. “He’s really been emphasizing making it a lot more successful than what it used to be. Coach has done a great job implementing new standards into this team, and we’re living by those. I think he’s doing a great job, and I can’t wait to see what he’s got next.”
In the Pride’s opening matches to the spring taking place in Orlando, Fla., they may have gone just 1-3 overall, but the experience and veteran leadership to the underclassmen goes beyond just a record.
“I thought all the veterans really helped teach the young guys a lot of things, especially how to stay calm and poise throughout the tough parts of a match,” Kilburn said. “We played a lot of opponents who had a really raw and aggressive style of play, and their intentions were to get under our skin. But all of our players did a great job staying composed, and we’re gonna try to continue to do that.”
With 10 underclassmen, seven of which are first-year students, the lack of experience within the team is something that Springfield believes helps add to that motivation to prove its doubters wrong.
“The men’s team is really, really young,” DeVarennes said. “But we’re really hungry and motivated to get better each day. Whether it’s the freshmen or the seniors, I think each person is motivated by that youth and by that hunger. The whole group is really ready to go out and show that to the NEWMAC.”
The women’s program is in an entirely different situation. With a roster comprised of just three first-years and a year removed from a NEWMAC Championship Semifinal appearance, the Pride strive to stay at the same level of competitiveness in recent years.
“We’re a little bit more experienced,” DeVarennes said. “We’ve kind of been there and done that in the conference. I think we’re looking to improve on our doubles play, on the depth of our lineup and really just look to continue to build off the success we’ve had the last couple of years.”
The women’s team had a solid showing in Florida, going 2-2 overall to open the season. It is led by a great senior and sophomore duo of Gabby Heaney-Secord and Ramida Manataweewat whose performance earned them the NEWMAC Women’s Tennis Doubles Team of the Week.
During Springfield’s four matches in Florida, the tandem picked up four victories in doubles play while competing at the top spot for the Pride against Ithaca, Ohio Northern, Wisconsin-La Crosse and St. Scholastica.
To make another deep run in the NEWMAC tournament, Springfield will need strong showings from the doubles.
“We need to trust each other,” DeVarennes said. “Trust in our coaches and preparation, and continue to work hard on the practice court. And then the last thing it just starts with doubles. I think if we play really good solid doubles, we’re gonna give ourselves a chance to win in every match.”
For the men, the path to winning the conference tournament also relies on good doubles performances, but also using their youth to its advantage.
“On the men’s side, we’re really young and we can use that to our advantage,” DeVarennes said. “We don’t know any better. You need to come out each match and play our game. If we do that, I know we’re gonna be a really, really hard team to beat and compete with. Additionally, it goes on to doubles. We got to play good, solid doubles. If we can start the match on a good note, whether it’s 2-1 or 3-0, we’re going to put us in a really good position to get a lot of W’s.”
Photo: Springfield Athletics