Clarksville, Ark.-Expectations are at an all-time high for Shaun Wiseman?s University of the Ozarks men?s tennis team following a record-breaking 2012 season.
The Eagles have their sights set high after more than doubling their wins from the previous season. The 2012 team posted its first winning record in nearly a decade, ending with a 10-5 overall mark. Spurred by the momentum of last season, the Eagles appear primed to again challenge for a playoff spot.
“I think they have the potential to go a lot further than last year,” said Wiseman. “There is no substitute for experience and these guys now have a year of conference play under their belt. We can take what we accomplished last year and put that as a baseline to where the program can be every year.”
Wiseman has his top six players back, including four All-Conference players. Sophomore Todd Turner returns as the No. 1 singles player after posting a 9-5 mark. Turner made Honorable Mention All-Conference in doubles. No. 2 singles player Bishop Bass is back after earning ASC Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-Conference honors. He went 12-3 in singles and teamed with Turner to go 11-4 in doubles.
“Todd is expected to be the No. 1 singles player again,” said Wiseman. “Last year he had to dig deep against players that normally would defeat us. His play turned a lot of heads. He is a coach’s dream because he is talented, low maintenance and leads by example. Bishop is equally as talented and has set a high standard for the program. He now has a target on his back. He is capable of playing great tennis.”
Juniors Scott Eibes and Michael Skimbo garnered Honorable Mention All-Conference in doubles. Eibes also made the All-Conference list as a singles player. Eibes went 9-5 at No. 5 singles, while teaming with Skimbo to go 6-4 in doubles.
“Scott is a team leader,” said Wiseman. “He has developed a lot since his freshman season. He is stronger mentally and now has the ability to put away close matches. Michael wins more matches with his mind and mental fortitude than most. He is creative and smart on the court. He is a multi-dimensional player and that is how he wins his matches.”
Sophomores Corey Dillard and Gregg Knaggs round out the top six in singles for Ozarks. Dillard posted nine wins in singles, while Greggs had seven singles wins.
“Corey arguably had as good a season as Todd and Bishop,” said Wiseman. “He fights harder than his opponents. It is always him against the world and that is what fuels him. Greg is a physical specimen. He is big, strong and fast. He possesses a monster serve.”
Sophomore Bryant Ford also returns for to provide valuable depth.
Despite a breakout season, the Eagles came up short in qualifying for the playoffs. And that motivation has been a driving force during fall play.
“The first day of practice was to the point where I thought we would have a fight because of the intensity,” said Wiseman. “These guys are more driven as a result of not going to the playoffs. We don’t just want to be a team that wins a lot of matches, we want to win quality matches and win the big matches.”
Qualifying for postseason play is always difficult in the competitive American Southwest Conference, which has as many as three teams in the NCAA Division III’s top-40. Ozarks posted a 3-3 conference record, one spot away from making the post-season last year.
“We now know what it takes to win the big matches,” said Wiseman. “The guys are not afraid of having a goal of trying to defeat the top teams in the division, and that is important. Last year we didn’t know how because we were not accustomed to winning. But now the culture is to win. The guys talk about winning the entire conference tournament and receiving the bid to the national tournament. I believe the talent is on campus to do that, but it will take a herculean effort. They must put in the hard work to accomplish that goal.”
Ozarks opens the season February 12 against Harding University.