PREVIEW: Deep Roster, Challenging Schedule Have Bruins Eager for ‘12 Tennis Season
NEWBERG, Ore. – With perhaps their strongest and deepest roster ever, a challenging schedule that includes three NCAA Division I opponents, and a concrete shot at the Northwest Conference Tournament, the George Fox University men’s tennis team and third-year coach Neal Ninteman are eagerly anticipating the upcoming 2012 season.
“Our program has taken some impressive strides the past two years,” notes Ninteman, “and we’re hopeful of continuing our climb this year toward becoming one of the top teams in the conference. We’ve got an awesome group of talented players who realize they are in a position to do something special. From the very first day of the season they have been working hard as a team, pushing themselves and each other to be the best they can be.”
The Bruins have not played in the NWC Tournament since the 2005 season, when the field consisted of eight teams. With the tournament reduced to four, earning a berth has been tougher, but Ninteman is hopeful this is year to change that. The Bruins’ high hopes seem well-founded after the team’s impressive showing in the USTA/ITA Pacific Northwest Fall Championships this past September, where they posted the second-best record in the nine-team NWC field.
"Our performance at the ITA was exciting and encouraging,” says Ninteman, “and showed us that we’re ready to take that next step toward contending for the conference championship.”
George Fox is 11-26 in two seasons under Ninteman, improving from 5-16 in 2010 to 6-10 in 2011. The Bruins were 5-7 in conference play last spring, landing in a tie for fifth place and missing out on the four-team NWC Tournament by a match.
Gone from last year’s squad are three-time All-NWC performer and 2011 NWC Sportsman of the Year Scott Barnett. However, six letterwinners return to anchor a roster that includes five talented newcomers.
Leading the Bruin lineup are returner Preston Mann (So., Salem, Ore. / Sprague HS) and junior college transfer Shawn Aldrich (Jr., Yuba City, Calif. / Yuba City HS) from Sierra College in California. Mann earned honorable mention All-Conference as a freshman with a 10-6 record at Nos. 2-3 singles, while Aldrich reached the singles quarter-finals of the ITA fall tournament - the only non-Whitman College player to do so – before losing a tough three-set match to the tournament champion.
“Preston and Shawn have the makings of a dominant 1-2 punch,” predicts Ninteman. “In them, we have two guys capable of playing with anyone in this league. They are both loaded with talent ... and even more heart.”
The rest of the Bruins’ lineup looks to be a formidable force as well. Talented returner Justin McClain (So., Spokane, Wash. / Mt. Spokane HS) is slated for the number three spot. Points out Ninteman, “Justin had a great freshmen season last year, and his game has progressed significantly over the fall; it will be exciting to see what he can accomplish this year. He has the talent to become one of the top players in the league.”
Joining McClain in the middle of the lineup is newcomer Drew Milton (Jr., Newcastle, Calif. / Del Oro HS), another Sierra College transfer who will begin the season playing No. 4 singles. Comments Ninteman, “Drew is a huge addition for us. He’s a solid singles and doubles player who brings great experience from playing in the tough California junior college ranks the past two years.”
The Bruins have a stable of solid players to fill out the remaining positions, particularly returners Peter Brown (Jr., Kennewick, Wash. / Kamakian HS) and Andy Tweet (So., Camas, Wash. / Camas HS). Brown was 5-11 while splitting time among the 2, 3, and 4 singles positions and 7-9 at No. 2 doubles in 2011, and was one of four Bruins to reach the quarter-finals of the doubles in the fall ITA, along with partner McClain and the pairing of Mann and Milton. Tweet saw time at the No. 6 singles and No. 3 doubles spots last year, achieving a 4-4 and 4-3 record respectively as a freshman.
“Peter and Andy gave us solid first seasons,” recalls Ninteman, “and we look for more of the same from them this spring.”
David Munoz (Fr., Cuenca, Ecuador / Rafael Borja HS) only joined the team this spring after taking the fall off to focus on his studies in engineering, but he has already made a strong impression on Ninteman, who says, “From the first day David came out, it was immediately apparent that he was capable of being a great addition to our squad. He is a smart player with a beautiful all-court game from many years of high-level training in his home in Ecuador as well as at academies in Argentina. We are excited to have him.”
Strengthening the Bruins’ lineup further are returnees Pax Magaway (So., Tacoma, Wash. / Steilacoom HS) and Nolan Staples (So., Newberg, Ore. / Newberg HS), the latter the team’s only left-hander, and newcomers Collin Hammagren (Fr., Salem, Ore. / North Salem HS) and Ben Fullhart (Fr., Sisters, Ore. / Sisters HS).
“Our depth is really impressive,” observes Ninteman. “Top to bottom, these guys can play, so we’ll plan to use that to our advantage by rotating through the lineup as the specific needs warrant. I’m confident they’ll all be ready and perform well when called upon.”
Assisting Ninteman with this year’s team is local teaching pro and former Portland State University tennis player Sean Eberle, who has been working out with the team two days a week.
This year’s NWC schedule consists of a “round-and-a-half”; each conference team will play the other eight teams once, and four of those eight a second time, for 12 league matches in all. George Fox has filled the remainder of its schedule with Division III power California-Santa Cruz, NAIA teams the College of Idaho, Biola, and Hope International, and three Division I teams in Portland State, California-Davis, and Radford. The Bruins also hope to send several players to the prestigious Ojai Tournament in California at the end of the season.
“It’s a rugged schedule, no question,” admits Ninteman, “but it reflects my belief in this team and where we are as a program. As athletes, we look forward to the chance to compete at such a high level. When you play teams like UC-Davis, Santa Cruz, Radford, and Whitman, it brings the best out of you and gives you a chance to see what you’re really are capable of. We’re looking forward to it. Whatever happens, I know we’re going to have a heck of a season.”
The season gets under way for the Bruins this Saturday, Feb. 4, as they host NCAA Division I California-Davis at 6:00 p.m. in a match scheduled for the indoor courts at the Tualatin Hills Tennis Center in Beaverton, Ore. The Bruins’ first on-campus match is set for Feb. 18 vs. the College of Idaho.