A youthful Valparaiso University men’s tennis team will take to the court for the 2009 spring season as the Crusaders return just four players from last year’s squad which finished 7-13 overall and 1-5 in the Horizon League in the Brown and Gold’s inaugural season in the conference.
Valpo finished the season strong, winning three of its last four matches, including a pair at the Horizon League Championships to finish in fifth place after posting a sixth place finish in the regular season.
Head coach Jim Daugherty’s squad saw some action in challenging tournaments this past fall, giving some of the freshmen the opportunity to experience collegiate tennis prior to the start of dual match play. The 24th-year head coach saw some bright spots along the way, and hopefully the Crusaders are able to build upon what they learned during the fall season.
Senior Alex Lau will lead the Crusaders this spring at the top of the lineup. A year ago, Lau won a team-high 12 singles matches for Valpo, splitting time at the number one and number two spots in the order. He also won a team-leading 11 doubles contests on the season and the Crusaders will look to his leadership this fall. Lau enters his senior season with 45 singles victories after notching a pair of wins during the fall slate.
Junior Tom Litscher will need to step up in the order to help the Brown and Gold obtain success. Playing fourth singles a year ago, Litscher won six singles contests, ending the season with two straight victories. Litscher teamed with Lau at number two doubles where the duo combined for 10 wins. He missed this year’s fall campaign with a wrist injury though, and had to battle back during the offseason to return to the same form as a year ago.
A pair of sophomores have a year’s experience now and will be called upon to make more of an impact this season. Kyle Stump finished second on the team in wins as a rookie with 11, including a 9-9 mark at sixth singles. Stump had the team’s best record in Horizon League action, going 4-2. He also played third doubles for a majority of the year, winning nine contests with Dan Brunette, who graduated at the end of the season. Stump won his first match this past fall before struggling for results the rest of the way. He did get solid match experience though, playing in three three-set matches.
Phidias Fortune got a taste of collegiate tennis a year ago as well. Fortune went 4-4 in singles play, seeing action during two dual matches as well as playing in fall tournaments. He also played in several doubles matches throughout the year. This past fall Fortune’s success came in doubles where he teamed with his classmate Stump to combine for a team-high three victories.
Daugherty has three newcomers to the squad this season that he hopes can step in and contribute right away. Kevin DeHerrera went 60-18 during his high school career combined in singles and doubles and was a four-time Jefferson County League champion for Chatfield High School in Littleton, Colo. During the fall, he looked like an experienced veteran of collegiate tennis, winning a team-high three matches in the three tournaments the Crusaders played in. His wins included a thrilling come-from-behind three set victory at the Ball State Fall Invitational, needing to win a second set tie-break to extend the match.
Adam Whitmer was a Second Team All-State player in singles as a senior for Westview High School in Shipshewana, Ind. He posted a 90-12 prep singles record, including a 19-1 mark as a senior. He also found the victory column twice in singles action this past fall to get him set for dual match play. He saw action in just one doubles contest, but should play a larger role as the regular season roles around.
Carlton Lyons also joined the program this fall, but was unable to compete while rehabbing from a shoulder injury. He did not play tennis last season while attending Purdue, but has four years of eligibility remaining after transferring to Valpo for the upcoming year.
While Daugherty has a youthful team for the upcoming season, he has yet another challenging schedule on tap for Valpo. First serve comes on January 31 as the Brown and Gold travels to East Lansing, Mich. to take on the Spartans of Michigan State. Following a trip to Bradley, the Crusaders will open the home schedule on February 14 with a match against IUPUI at the Courts of Northwest Indiana.
After another road match to Ball State, the Brown and Gold will head south to Kissimmee, Fla. for three matches and training over spring break. This has become an annual tradition for the Crusaders, and gives Valpo the opportunity to play on outdoor courts before beginning the outdoor season at home.
Upon returning to the north, Valpo will open Horizon League play on April 4 at Wright State before beginning a five match homestand at the Valparaiso University Tennis Complex on April 7 against Dayton. The Crusaders’ home finale is set for April 15, with the regular season finale coming on April 19 at Cleveland State. This year’s Horizon League Championships are set for April 24 through 26 in Indianapolis, Ind.
Despite a young roster, expect the Crusaders to battle match after match as they look to continue their climb up the Horizon League ladder. Lau is a talented senior leader and behind an experienced head coach, Valparaiso is set for success on the courts. Depending on how long will it take for the underclassmen to get into the mix will depend on how soon the success comes to the program.