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Young pups come of age

By Jacob Knabel on May. 4, 2016 in Women's Tennis

Following a 3-13 start, head coach Joel Reckewey gathered his Concordia women’s tennis team together. At that point roles had yet to be clearly defined for a group made up solely of freshmen and sophomores. Eighteen different doubles combinations had been attempted. Said freshman Katelinn Wurm, “To be honest, I wasn’t confident at the beginning of the year.”

The team meeting clearly impacted Wurm and fellow freshman Kayla Smock significantly. Both mentioned the hour-and-a-half discussion as a turning point. According to them, it was at that moment that the Bulldogs really became a team.

“Coming in I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Smock, a native of Sterling, Colo. “I’ve been really impressed with how far everyone’s come from the first match until now. Fort Hays was our first fall match and you could tell that we all were struggling. We didn’t really know each other. We’ve just grown as a team and that’s really helped us.”

The Bulldogs have come a long ways since that loss to NCAA Division II Fort Hays State University in the fall. Reckewey had no choice but to throw his group of young pups into a den of hungry wolves. There were growing pains and a series of 9-0 defeats during nonconference play. But after a tough slate to begin GPAC play, things began to turn around.

Fast forward to the present and the Bulldogs are riding a four-match GPAC winning streak into this year’s conference tournament. Over that stretch, Concordia doubles pairs are a combined 10-2. The team swept through doubles play in last week’s 5-4 victory at Hastings, showing clear signs of steady development.

“It’s made a huge difference,” said sophomore Annie Horn of the more settled lineup that has taken hold in recent weeks. “Now in practice we have our partner. We’re not switching around every practice with different people. We have someone we play with the whole time. The chemistry has built between all of us.”

Used to playing at the No. 1 singles spot since the start of her freshman season, Horn has slid down to the No. 2 slot with freshman Hailey Lemos jumping to the top. Horn has responded by going 4-2 against GPAC opponents at the No. 2 position. She’s also teamed with Lemos on three-straight victories at No. 1 doubles. Meanwhile, Smock has thrived in her role at No. 6 singles, where she’s 5-1.

Reckewey’s new formula for success also includes sophomores Alison Ebel (No. 4 singles), Hannah Boe (No. 5 singles / No. 3 doubles) and Katie Hertz (No. 3 doubles). The right mix has helped produce wins over Midland, Northwestern, Mount Marty and Hastings since April 15.

The more time the Bulldogs have spent together, the better they’ve become.

“It’s actually pretty amazing,” Wurm said. “On and off the court we’re a team. We do things off the court together a lot and I think that’s what’s built the team. I’ve never had that. I think that’s helped me personally and a lot of the girls, too.”

Next up for third-place (fourth seed) Concordia is a GPAC quarterfinal match with Hastings at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. It will provide another opportunity for memories to be made among close-knit teammates. It may even get a bit squirrely at times.

“The road trips are a lot of fun,” Smock said. “For a while we would go around and ask a question and everyone would answer it. Some were really weird questions like what kind of animal would you be. We just have fun. We’ve made strong connections. It’s also a time for us to figure out what we’re going to do to try to win the match that we’re going to play.”

It’s been a season of growth and learning for the Bulldogs. They’ve done a lot of both and with such a young team, the possibilities for the future have members of the team excited for what’s to come.

“It’s going to be really cool to see the team stay together,” Horn said. “It’s going to be cool to just see how we grow. From here we’re only going to get better. As we bring in more girls it will keep building upon the team.”

Added Wurm, who hails from Bradenton, Fla., “I’m so confident in us right now. We feel like we can win if we do what we’ve been doing.”