Clarksville, Ark.-Shaun Wiseman had a plan, he just didn?t think it would happen this quickly.
Wiseman, the head men’s and women’s tennis coach at the University of the Ozarks, hauled in the program’s most talented men’s freshmen class in school history. And, the fab six – Todd Turner, Bishop Bass, Corey Dillard, Greg Knaggs, Bill Blake and Bryant Ford – have already made school history. That group has helped the program post the most wins (9) in over a decade. They have also guaranteed the program a winning season, only the second time that has happened within the last ten years.
Wiseman’s long-term plan included building the program’s foundation with this group. But what he didn’t realize was how quickly their impact would be felt.
“They’ve raised their level of game so quickly,” said Wiseman, who is in his fourth year at Ozarks. “I knew they were capable of great things, but I didn’t know how long it would take. I had no idea it would happen so soon.”
During the recruiting process, Wiseman sold the idea that each could be part of something special.
“I let them know in the recruiting process that they would be the foundation for what we are building,” he said. “I was hoping they would get to a higher level by just being around each other and playing.”
Turner, Bass, Dillard and Blake are from Arkansas, while Knaggs and Ford hail from Texas.
“They knew each other from different tournaments in high school,” he said. “They respect each other’s game. They knew if they would all come together, they could accomplish something pretty special.”
Special it has been. Bass owns the team’s top singles record at 11-3, playing all but one match as the No. 2 singles player. Turner, who plays No. 1, is 8-5 in singles, and has teamed up with Bass to own a 10-4 doubles mark. Dillard, Knaggs and Blake have posted winning records in singles. The six combined have won an impressive 36 singles matches.
Both Turner and Bass were highly decorated high school players and could have played at NCAA I or NCAA II schools, according to Wiseman, who is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in athletic administration.
“Todd is our No. 1 singles player and that is lot to ask a freshman,” said Wiseman. “He embraces it. He’s a gifted tennis player. Bishop is one of the hardest workers we have. Bishop is our best doubles player. He is very comfortable at the net and has superb hand eye coordination. He has great touch. Both Todd and Bishop are very critical of their games, which can be detrimental, but it also fuels them to be so good.”
“If there is any one individual who has exceeded my expectations it would be Corey. He has moved his way up the lineup. He gives 110 percent every match. Greg has grown and gained muscle and is an imposing player on the court. He has great talent and his hand eye coordination is unmatched. Bill has an incredible serve and one of the biggest forehands I’ve seen. He is one that if he decides to put in the work he will play in the lineup all four years. When he figures it out he might be the best player in the conference. Bryant is a good doubles player. He has improved his game and takes pride in doubles. He has moved his way up into the varsity lineup, and I am proud of him for that.”
Competition breeds success in the eyes of Wiseman. Practices can become intense amongst the freshmen. Competitive practices have translated into more wins and better players, and other teams have taken notice.
“Practice is heated at times,” Wiseman said. “It is intense. It is a friendly rivalry between them. But off the court, they are close friends. That is exactly what I want in my program. It’s good to see it is coming to fruition. We have earned our opponents respect because of this competitive freshmen group.”
Off the court, the group has also excelled in the classroom.
“Most of them will become academic all-conference next season when they become eligible,” said Wiseman. “They all care about school. They are able to grasp and balance academics and athletics equally. That is refreshing because that is the kind of kids I want.”
Among the most impressive feats for this class has been their team-first attitude.
“They don’t play tennis as an individual sport, they play it as a team sport,” said Wiseman. “That is a goal for any coach. They have bought into a team concept even though it is a sport that is typically played individually. They continue to show team is bigger than I. I’ve always said I wanted a team that was like a family. These guys are like brothers.”
Ozarks will host Louisiana College April 14.