PREVIEW: Newcomers Strengthen Bruins’ Bid to Rise in NWC

NEWBERG, Ore. – With the addition of four talented newcomers and another player who sat out the last two seasons, the George Fox University men’s tennis team hopes to take a significant step forward in the Northwest Conference standings during the upcoming 2009 spring season.


“We have strengthened ourselves at the top of the lineup and expect to be more competitive with other teams in the conference than we have been in several years,” says head coach Rick Cruz, who is now in his 11th season with the Bruins.  “Whether that translates into more wins, only time will tell, since most of the rest of the league has improved as well, but we don’t anticipate many straight-set, 0-0 losses either.  In order for us to win, however, we must have the whole team playing well every time out.”


The Bruins lost five members of last year’s team and return three letterwinners from a group that went 2-17 overall and finished eighth in the conference at 2-14.


Newcomer Stefan Lagielski (Fr., Vancouver, Wash. / Prairie HS) has earned the No. 1 position on the team.  Says Cruz, “Stefan was one of the top players in Washington last year, reaching the semifinals of the state doubles tournament, and as he plays more singles, he has the potential to become one of the better players in the league before too long.”


Scott Barnett (Fr., Jefferson, Ore. / Jefferson Christian HS), who was in school last year but did not play, has joined the team this season and will challenge for one of the 2-3-4 spots in the lineup.  “We wanted Scott to play last year, but he wanted to get settled into the college life first,” remembers Cruz.  “We are certainly glad he decided to come out this year.”


Also in the mix for the 2-3-4 roles are returnees Ralf Schulz (Sr., Lake Oswego, Ore. / Lake Oswego HS) and Nick Jenness (Jr., Gresham, Ore. / Sam Barlow HS), who played primarily at Nos. 1 and 3 last year.  “Ralf and Nick provide us with experience and a good knowledge of the conference for our newcomers,” says Cruz.  “We are looking for solid seasons from both of them.”


Expected to secure the No. 5 spot is Ethan Headley (Sr., Newberg, Ore. / home-schooled), who returns to the team after a two-year hiatus from the game.  “Ethan was helping coach at a local school while he worked on his degree, and he realized he missed the game, so he decided to come back for his final year,” notes Cruz.  “He will be a valuable addition to the team.”


Vying for the No. 6 position will be rookies Ross Budreau (Fr., Keizer, Ore. / McNary HS) and Garrett Thompson (Fr., Hillsboro, Ore. / Faith Bible HS).  “Ross probably has the inside track,” admits Cruz, “but we expect both of them to contribute this season.”


Rounding out the squad is the Bruins’ third returnee, Scott Porter (Jr., Salem, Ore. / Salem Academy), who has shown considerable improvement and should see increased action before the season is over.


Probable pairings for the Bruins’ doubles matches would be Lagielski and Schulz, Jenness and Barnett, and Thompson and Headley, but the order of play is still to be determined. 


The season gets under way for George Fox with three matches this weekend.  The Bruins host Whitworth University Friday at 11:00 a.m. and Pacific Lutheran University Saturday at 2:00 p.m., then play a road game against Pacific University Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton, Ore.  All three are conference matches.