Tennis Looks to Spring Season
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
At the close of their 2012 season, Lords tennis had a lot to be proud of. The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) ranked them second in the nation and first in the region. Paul Burgin ’13 was 11th in the country, and Michael Razumovsky ’15 ranked third after he reached the final four of the NCAA Division III men’s tennis singles tournament; he’s only the third player in Kenyon’s history to do so.
These accomplishments raise two tough questions: Can they do it again? And, can they do it better?
The answers are months away, but a strong showing at last weekend’s ITA Central Region Championship bodes well. Wade Heerboth ’15 and Robert Turlington ’16 fought back from a close shave in the third round to claim the doubles title 8-6 over the tournament’s top-seeded pair, and Burgin made it to the finals of the singles championship, but where he lost 6-2, 6-3 to the tournament’s number-one seed. “I just ran into someone who was better than me,” Burgin said.
Next month, Heerboth and Turlington will compete in the doubles bracket of the National Small College Championships, where they will face the top Division III regional teams from around the country. “I’m just happy to be going there at this point,” Heerboth said. “I have no expectations, and I think … we’ll just go in there with no pressure whatsoever. When you’re playing with no pressure ... good things can happen.”
But while Heerboth and Turlington have another tournament to look forward to, the rest of the Lords will have to wait until the spring, and that wait won’t be easy. “With tennis kids, they’re not used to having an off season. It’s very bizarre to actually have an off season,” Head Coach Scott Thielke said. “Taking two weeks off from having coaching is a long time for a tennis kid. Taking three months off — that’s just a whole other story for them.” In part, the off-season means months without formal coaching.
The off-season can also rob players of their endurance. “Getting them back physically is probably the biggest thing,” Thielke said. “Mentally, it’s not necessarily that difficult to get them back. … But, you know, getting them back physically is really key. ... We jump into practice and then we jump into matches in less than two weeks after they get back.” That quick turnaround can put unfit players at risk for injury.
It isn’t all bad, according to Burgin. In fact, it can be decisive. “A good friend of mine always said that championships aren’t won in season, championships are won in the off-season, and I think that’s absolutely true,” he said. “If you want to come in and have a successful season when you’re in really good shape and are really hitting the ball well, it’s all predicated on the work that you put in in the off-season. I think that’s what sticks with me — that if I want to have a good season then I know that I really need to work as hard as I absolutely can in the off-season.”
Sometimes, though, having that self-discipline requires outside motivation “It’s pretty hard in the off-season to be self-motivated to go out every day because you don’t have to be … and you’re thinking, ‘well, I don’t have a competitive match again for the next four and a half months, why would I practice today?’” Heerboth said. “It’s very easy to get in that mindset, so I think you have to motivate your teammates, you have to tell them ‘come down today, we’ll all be there.’”
Despite strong showings across the board last weekend — even after Razumovsky, the team’s number two player, withdrew from play due to a back injury — last season’s success created a new challenge. “We’re targets,” Burgin said.
“We were national runner ups last year, we returned all of our starters, and we have three freshmen coming in this year who are all going to contribute in some way, so everybody looks at us as a target.”
“I think this tournament we really ... made a statement as well that last year was not a fluke,” Heerboth said. “I think we’ll really be ready to defend that second place and hopefully get first.”
And the ghost of last year lingers. “Seeing Emory win it and celebrate it, that was a feeling that’s still with me and that’s going to stay with me for a long time,” Burgin said of the team’s loss in the final of the NCAA Division III Championship last year. “I think it motivated a lot of us and I think we’re going to work harder than we’ve ever worked this year, because honestly it was a worse feeling losing in the finals than it was losing in the quarters the year before. … I think that’s going to be a huge motivation and really kind of force us to push ourselves even when we don’t want to.”
Coach Thielke cautiously agreed. “I think things look good for us,” he said, “but it’s still a long way away.”