CLEVELAND, Ohio – The spring season kicks off for the Case Western Reserve University tennis program this week, and a pair of youthful Spartan teams will each enter with their own sets of lofty expectations.
The Spartan women's squad is coming off a season in which it improved from 2-16 in 2008-09 to 10-13 in 2009-10 and features a roster with just one upperclassman. Despite a lack of experience, the Spartans coasted through their fall slate and finished 3-0 in dual match competition against the likes of Oberlin College, Baldwin-Wallace College and John Carroll University.
"We are certainly ready to be competitive this year in the conference," said second-year head coach Todd Wojtkowski. "It's tough, as the top-three teams in the UAA are also in the top-eight nationally and the next three teams are all top-25 as well. We lost to two of those teams 5-4 last year, but with adding a few new players I feel we now have the depth to compete and win the tight matches."
The squad will look to sophomore Erika Lim (Fullerton, CA/Fullerton Union) and freshman Bianca Patel (Cincinnati, OH/Sycamore) to continue to provide points from the top of the lineup at singles. Lim closed out the fall with an 8-2 singles record, while Patel put together an 8-1 mark. Both also reached the top-16 at the USTA/ITA Regionals and went 3-0 against dual match opponents.
Lim returns to the program after earning second-team All-University Athletic Association honors as a freshman in 2010. A standout on an up-and-coming program, Lim was the first Spartan women's tennis athlete to garner All-UAA status since 1993.
"Erika holds a strong role in that she gives us that reliable point each time she goes out," said Wojtkowski. "There aren't many people in the region that can beat her and therefore we always know what we are getting from her. That being said, each point counts the same and we really try to emphasize that each player is equally important to the team."
Aside from Lim and Patel, Case will expect contributions at singles from sophomores Emily Pham (Mason, OH/William Mason) and Kathleen Evers (Cincinnati, OH/Mount Notre Dame), who recorded solo marks of 5-4 and 3-3, respectively, during the fall. Evers should make an impact at doubles as well, where the sophomore proved to have good chemistry with three different teammates and put up a combined 8-1 record in the fall season.
A pair of freshmen, Kara Richardson (Columbus, OH/Upper Arlington) and Evelyn Qi (Tampa, FL/C. Leon King), have also shown the ability to hold their own amongst the college ranks. Richardson compiled a 4-4 singles record, while Qi went 3-3 as they each got their first taste of collegiate competition in the fall.
On the men's side, big things will be expected from the young, yet established, doubles duo of freshman John Healey (Columbia, MD/Atholton) and sophomore Nicolas Howe (Shaker Heights, OH/Shaker Heights). The pair checked in at No. 22 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Poll over the offseason and now owns the distinction of holding the first-ever national ranking of any kind for the Spartan tennis program.
Healey and Howe recorded a 7-5 record together during fall play, highlighted by a 4-1 record and an appearance in the semi-finals of the main draw at the USTA/ITA Regionals.
The men's team, coming off an 11-13 campaign in 2009-10, won its lone dual match of the fall season in convincing fashion, shutting out Oberlin College 9-0 on October 6.
In singles play, the Spartans will lean on juniors Rohan Patel (Cincinnati, OH/Sycamore)and Sean Carr (Columbus, OH/Upper Arlington) at the top two spots, where the team's elder statesmen went a combined 9-11 in the fall. Sophomores Kyle Gerber (Columbus, OH/St. Charles Prep) and Howe also split their singles matches in the fall with 5-5 and 3-3 marks, respectively, and will be expected to contribute in the middle of the lineup.
"Rohan has been like a senior ever since last year in the way that he leads the team," Wojtkowski said. "This year I have found that our freshman are coming along extremely faster than in the past. I think this is because of the leadership we have up top. I expect that the team will continue to improve as this has been our main focus all along. I expect that our doubles will continue to be a very strong point and put us in position to win matches. I expect that we will fight extremely hard and will not be outmatched when it comes to mental and physical fitness."
Healey put together a 5-4 mark in his fall singles matches and another rookie, Eric Klawitter (Arlington Heights, IL/John Hershey), showed promise with a 6-4 record as the pair should round out the five and six spots for Case.
"As most of our freshmen continue to settle in and let the smoke clear, they will soon start realizing that they are able to compete with any player at the Division III level," Wojtkowski said. "Our lineup is extremely deep from one through 13 and, on any given day, our eight could beat our one, which makes for great practice and preparation for matches. I think, as the season goes on, you will see these freshmen steadily moving forward in the lineup. When they finally settle in, as I believe has already started to happen, they are going to be major parts of our success as a team."
The Spartan men will return to the courts after nearly a two month hiatus in a dual match against the University of Toledo on Friday, January 28 at 1:00 p.m. in Toledo, OH. The women will compete next along with the men against the University of Chicago (IL), hosted by the University of Notre Dame, on Friday, February 4 at 6:00 p.m.