Grace’s men’s tennis team comes into the 2015 season with a new look.
Apart from the squad’s new Nike uniforms, the Lancers will feature several fresh faces in key positions.
Head coach Larry Schuh, who has led Grace to two Crossroads League titles since 2012, maintains that this year’s team has the talent to win another crown. Schuh has built Grace into an annual contender for the league championship, leading the Lancers to a third-place finish and a 7-3 record in 2014.
“I am very excited for the season because we have the potential to be stronger than last year,” he said. “We are very much improved up and down the lineup. As a coach, I know we have the potential to accomplish our goal, which is to win conference.”
Schuh revealed that the doubles’ lineup would look very different as would the top three singles’ positions.
Seniors Ethan Grove and Ricardo Bedon bring experience and leadership to the squad, and juniors Gabe Vervynckt and Jacob Stump were key contributors in 2014.
A pair of sophomore newcomers — Danila Kurkulin and Uros Pajic — figure to be major factors to Grace’s success this fall. Kurkulin, a native of Haifa, Israel, can compete at the No. 1 singles position, replacing graduated All-League senior Daniel Sanchez.
Brennan Angle, Connor Bates, Adam Yoder, Caleb Yoder and Jackson Zvers are also new to Grace’s roster this year, giving Schuh one of the deepest squads he’s had.
For Grace to reach its goal of qualifying for NAIA Nationals, the outcome may rest on the team’s doubles’ play. Schuh believes this squad “has the opportunity to be the best doubles’ team in the conference. All of our guys are very adept at handling the difficulties that doubles can bring to a team.”
Grace’s singles’ play will look to improve from last year’s form. Schuh believes the Lancers’ resiliency will carry them through the grind of the season. “We had some very gritty wins that involved my players fighting right down to the last point,” Schuh said. “When a tennis match turns into a dogfight, this team will rise above and fight for each other.”
While the Lancers will gun for a spot at NAIA Nationals this fall, the team is aiming just as intently for spiritual growth. “Our word of emphasis this year is ‘focus.’ Your focus determines your reality,” Schuh said. “If Christ is our focus, everything else takes care of itself.”
The Lancers kick off the season with four straight Crossroads League matches at home. Grace’s first league contest is Sept. 3 against Taylor at 4 p.m.
Hopes are high for Grace’s women’s tennis team in 2015.
The Lady Lancers are coming off their most wins since 2010 under head coach Scott Moore and return several key members of their lineup.
After mustering just five wins in the 2012 and 2013 seasons combined, Grace took a jump last fall to claim six victories and finish fifth in the Crossroads League. This year, Moore believes the women can do even better.
“I am more excited this year than I have ever been. I am very happy with all the work the girls have done to get the program where it is today, and much of that has to do with the girls we’ve had in our program these past two years,” Moore said. “I think expectations are high, and they are very ready to compete. We need to keep coming with a mindset of taking our program to another level.”
Headlining Grace’s returners is senior Natalia Kurkova, who was named to the 2014 All-CL Team. She posted a 9-2 record at No. 1 singles last year.
Also returning is the strong junior class of Katie Etter, Jayna Huber, Gabrielle Lawrence, Rachel Smith and Mariah Zumbrun. Lawrence finished with an 8-3 singles record in 2014, Zumbrun racked up 12 total wins in singles and doubles, and Etter also had a winning record in singles. Sophomore Caroline Cassidy did not drop a match in limited action during her freshman campaign, and senior Julia Marsh adds depth to the squad.
Two freshmen join the Lady Lancers in 2015: Molly Fitzpatrick (Mooresville) and Jenna Jackson (Carroll). Both players come from strong high school programs and are expected to make an immediate impact.
Moore believes this team has the talent to compete for a conference title. In his words, the Lady Lancers “definitely have a team that can finish in the top half of the Crossroads League.”
In order to reach that goal, however, the team needs to pay attention to the minutiae of their individual games.
“Our word this year is ‘details.’ If we can focus on correcting and excelling at the details, it will improve other areas of our game,” Moore said. “We can’t accomplish large goals if we don’t take the correct steps to get there.”
Studying details fits in well at Grace. The team finished with a cumulative 3.70 GPA last year, good for fourth-best among all NAIA women’s tennis teams. Only two sports (women’s cross country, women’s soccer) finished with a higher GPA among Grace’s programs, but Moore is hoping to surpass both of those squads this year.
Day-to-day goals will not change for Grace under Moore’s guidance. He wants the team to grow spiritually, improve each day as a student-athlete and have fun. “If we can accomplish each one of these goals, then I’m confident everything else will take care of itself.”
The Lady Lancers will make their season debut on Sept. 2 at Huntington. Grace’s first home match is Sept. 8 against St. Francis.