Small steps big for Linfield men's tennis
Early trials and tribulations have given way to progress – at a deliberate pace – for the Linfield men’s tennis team.
“I’ve been coaching 16 years and I’ve never had a season quite like this,” Wildcats coach Carl Swanson said.
Junior Ben Brewer, a Lake Oswego native, tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee in the fall and will not play this season. Sophomore Alex Mangan, who ran cross country and played tennis for Linfield last season, opted to forego tennis this season and is a member of the Wildcats’ track team. Junior Ben Berthold, a nursing major, moved to Linfield’s Portland campus and has been unable to make the commute to McMinnville for practices and matches.
So Linfield trots out two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors in its starting lineup and plays to the best of its abilities.
“It’s a wide range of circumstances,” Swanson said. “But players come to play, and the opportunity to play is an opportunity. Players have got to seize the moment, and that’s what guys are doing.”
Thus far, Linfield men’s tennis is 0-6 overall and 0-4 in Northwest Conference play. The Wildcats have won three matches this season, two of them by the No. 2 doubles pairing of junior Micah Roos and sophomore Tim Hawkins.
Swanson believes that the raw numbers belie a team ready to break out
“What do we control? A player controls their attitude, their effort,” Swanson said. “Those are the things that we’re working on.
“You can play a tennis match and you might win 25 points and lose 28 and you can be down 3-0 (in games). You’re competing and you’re almost level with your opponent but you’re playing down in the score. You have to continue to believe in what you’re doing. It comes down to execution on those crucial points.”
Swanson sees the Wildcats’ latest match, against Hardin-Simmons in Rancho Mirage, Calif., on Monday, as one such instance of competing with opponents but playing down on the official ledger. Roos and Hawkins defeated Hardin-Simmons’ No. 2 doubles pairing of Sam May and Andrew Eurek, 8-5, for Linfield’s only victory. Where the Wildcats could’ve gained on the Cowboys was in singles: junior Lukas Kleinman, Hawkins and freshman Alec Wisthoff each lost matches in the tie-breaking third set, with each of them scoring at least seven points in the tie-breaker.
“They were tired, it was hot, but they came out and they played super-hard,” Swanson said. “The guys were points away from a 5-4 result instead of an 8-1 result.”
Freshman Kelsey Rosborough played No. 1 singles against Hardin-Simmons and has been no lower than No. 2 on the singles pecking order. The Silverton native is also one-half of the Linfield No. 1 doubles team with Kleinman; the pair defeated John Stevens and Chas Stewart of Puget Sound, 8-6, on March 1.
“He’s a great competitor, super-coachable, works incredibly hard every day,” Swanson said of Rosborough. “He’s the future of the program. I’m convinced he’s going to be an all-conference player in his sophomore, junior, senior year.”
Roos and Kleinman have played in the top three singles positions, with Swanson praising Kleinman for “(being) really close to breaking the code at singles.” Hawkins, sophomore Nick Konen and Wisthoff have filled out Linfield’s top six.
Wisthoff got off to a rough start to his freshman season, suffering an ankle injury before the Wildcats’ first match against Whitman on Feb. 21, a 9-0 defeat. The freshman from Sherwood missed his first three matches before rejoining Linfield’s lineup.
“He’s come around,” Swanson said. “It’s nice to see him battle back from that injury, be out there. I think that’s given everybody a boost.”
Linfield plays Lewis & Clark Saturday at 1 p.m. in Portland before returning to McMinnville for a five-game homestand beginning March 21 against Spokane Community College at 3 p.m.