As the 2008 spring season begins for the Valparaiso University men’s tennis team, the Crusaders are getting set to take on the Horizon League for the first time. The Crusaders had a solid fall season, and with three newcomers on the squad this season, head coach Jim Daugherty was able to get each one some collegiate experience prior to the championship season.
In his 23rd year at the helm of the Brown and Gold, Daugherty will look to replace three players that graduated at the end of last season, all of whom were regulars in the top-five of the Crusader lineup last year. He does have five talented returnees, though, all of whom will be relied upon to take on larger roles this year.
Daugherty will have to rely on a trio of seniors, as well as returning Second Team All Mid-Continent Conference selection Alex Lau to help guide Valpo into the spring season.
Lau posted an 18-13 record overall, including a 4-1 league mark last year, playing mainly fourth singles for the Crusaders. This year he will be called upon to move to the top of the Valpo lineup. He had a solid fall, winning four matches, including the back draw at the Valpo Fall Classic in the A Flight.
Seniors Mike Shideler and Mike Wagner were both mainstays in the Brown and Gold’s lineup last year. Both have posted more than 30 career singles victories throughout their first three season with the Crusaders, and will be relied upon to move up in the lineup this year.
Shideler posted a 3-2 mark this fall, and has the power game to play at the top of the lineup this season. Wagner will also move up after playing in the fifth and sixth spots for Valpo last year. He was the team’s Doubles Player of the Year as a junior, and teamed with Shideler all fall season.
The third senior, Dan Brunette, also will look to make an impact in his final year after seeing limited action as a junior. He, along with Lau, is over .500 for his career in singles play. Brunette should open the season in the Crusader lineup.
Sophomore Tom Litscher saw a little action in his first season as a collegiate player during the 2006-2007 year. He improved throughout the fall and will be called upon this spring to step up for the Brown and Gold. With a year’s experience under his belt, Litscher should help the Crusaders in the middle to lower third of the order.
Daugherty will also be enlisting the services of three freshmen, each of whom got their first taste of college tennis in the fall events. Danny Lewallen, Phidias Fortune, and Kyle Stump will all try to make an impact from the beginning.
Fortune posted a 3-3 record in singles play this fall, while Stump also won a pair of matches. Lewallen also earned his first collegiate victory during the fall campaign, doing so at the Bradley Invitational.
Valpo will open the spring campaign on Friday, February 1, with a home match against Toledo at The Courts of Northwest Indiana.
The non-conference schedule will then take the Brown and Gold on the road for the next nine contests, against such formidable foes as Ball State, DePaul, Eastern Illinois, Western Michigan, and Northern Illinois.
Horizon League play kicks off on February 29 in Indianapolis against instate rival Butler before Valpo heads to Florida for the annual spring trip. Three matches down south will begin the outdoor portion of the schedule for the Crusaders.
Upon returning north, Valpo will play three straight matches at the Valparaiso University Tennis Complex, beginning with a contest against Bradley on March 29. Youngstown State and IPFW will visit over the next two days, with Wright State also coming to town later in April. The regular season wraps up at home against Cleveland State on April 19 before heading to Indianapolis for the Horizon League Championships April 25-27.
With the move to the Horizon League for 2008, Valparaiso will face new opponents while renewing rivalries with old foes. How the Crusaders will fare in the new conference will depend on how the returnees respond moving up in the lineup. In addition, the freshmen will need to step up and contribute from opening day to help make Valpo competitive.
With changes in store for the new season, excitement will build around the tennis courts in Valparaiso. Hope and optimism abound throughout the team, and with the hard work the players have put in during the offseason, the Crusaders hope the results show it.