Grace College’s men’s tennis team will enter the 2021 NCCAA National Championships with a target on its back.
The Lancers will be the highest-seeded team in the field, which starts later this week in Mobile, Ala.
Grace’s season will end in a place it hasn’t been in decades — playing for a national championship. The Lancers have two straight weeks of national tournaments ahead of them.
This week, Grace will compete at NCCAA Nationals in a six-team field. The Lancers will play No. 4 seed Judson on Tuesday (11 a.m. Eastern) and No. 6 Oakland City on Wednesday (5 p.m.).
The NCCAA semifinals will be held on Thursday with the national championship on Friday at 11 a.m.
The following week, Grace will be making a historic return to the NAIA National Championships. The Lancers have only reached the NAIA tournament one other time as a team — in 1988.
It’s practically serendipitous that the 1988 and 2021 teams at Grace are connected again. One of the star players on the 1988 squad was Andy Lewis, who now leads the Lancers as head coach this year.
For Lewis, getting Grace back to the NAIA tournament was a monumental goal he put in place for the squad.
“To reach the NAIA tournament this year is amazing. It’s been worth every moment to see this team come together,” Lewis said. “We have a great group of players on and off the court, and they have put in the work to reach their goal. I am very proud of them.”
One of Lewis’s teammates Leon Brenneman has stayed in close contact with the program. Brenneman played doubles with Lewis on the 1988 team that reached the NAIA tournament.
The next season, Lewis and Brenneman qualified by themselves to NAIAs but drew the No. 1 doubles’ team in the opening round. The duo lost 6-4, 7-5 in a close match, but Lewis realized that “winning is not everything. We played some of our best tennis, and I can remember (Grace’s coach) Mike Grill being so proud of us. That’s the memory I take from that tournament experience.”
Brenneman added: “Coach Lewis has done a fantastic job putting together this team. I’m so pleased that this great group of developing young men will have such a profound experience playing in the national tournament. I have no doubt that God will use it for His glory as He certainly did for me 33 years ago.”
Lewis and Brenneman both noted how Grace Tennis shaped their eternal mindsets as well their athletic abilities. Brenneman recalled that “at least half of my personal development in college” occurred within the athletic realm.
Both men were quick to praise longtime Grace tennis coach Mike Grill for his ability to shape the hearts and souls of the Lancers for many years.
“The unique integration of life lessons and how they relate to my faith established a working model that has been present in my personal and professional life ever since,” Brenneman added.
Although the Lancers have experienced a tremendous amount of success during the 2020-21 season, Grace is still a relatively young squad. Nearly every key player will return to the roster next year, armed with another year of playing against high-level competition.
But for this year, Grace has a chance to make history. The Lancers have accumulated seven conference championships over their history but have yet to secure a national crown.
Over the next two weeks, Grace will compete for two national titles. Regardless if Grace reaches that ultimate peak, this year’s Lancer squad has made a name for themselves while also paying homage to the teams that paved the way for them.
Follow along with Grace’s quest for a national title at www.gclancers.com.
- Grace will be playing in its first NCCAA tournament in program history. The NCCAA hosted a national invitational from 1996-99 then began hosting a national championship since 2000. The Lancers have never competed until 2021.
- Also competing in the NCCAA tournament this year in Pool B will be No. 2 Campbellsville, No. 3 Dallas Baptist and No. 5 Northwestern.
- The Lancers already own the program record for most wins in a season with 21 victories heading into national tournament play.
- Grace College has four national championships to date (1992 – NAIA men’s basketball, 1995 – NCCAA volleyball, 2019 – NCCAA women’s golf, 2020 – NCCAA men’s soccer).
- To see the NCCAA tournament page, click here.
- To see the NAIA tournament page, click here.