As Valparaiso is set to serve up the 2007 season of Crusader tennis, experience is definitely a major strong suit of this year's team.
Head coach Jim Daugherty begins his 22nd season at the helm of the Crusaders, and is looking to bring a Mid-Continent Conference title home to Valparaiso in the Crusaders' final season in the league before moving to the Horizon League next year.
Daugherty returns seven letterwinners, including all six from his regular lineup last season, from his team which went 11-10 overall and 5- 1 in the Mid-Con, finishing runner-up during the regular season. For Valpo, last year marked the first winning season in more than a decade.
Nic Kooyers, the reigning Mid-Con Player of the Year, leads the way for the Crusaders at the top of the lineup. The senior won 20 singles matches during 2005-2006 while posting a perfect 6-0 mark in Mid-Con action. The Mid-Con Player of the Week four times last year, Kooyers is a two-time First Team All Mid-Con selection after earning Second Team accolades as a freshman.
Joining Kooyers on the First Team last season was classmate Joe Venegas. Venegas was an All-Conference pick for the second straight season after earning Second Team All Mid-Con honors as a sophomore. Last season, playing second singles, Venegas won 14 singles contests, including a 4-2 mark in conference competition.
The third member of the senior class, Dave Bukowski, played mainly fifth singles for the Crusaders last year. In his last two seasons with Valpo, Bukowski has totalled 27 singles victories. He and his doubles teammate Mike Wagner combined for 11 doubles victories on the year, most by any duo on the squad.
Wagner, a junior, was a Second Team All Mid-Con selection one year ago. After beginning last season playing in the fourth spot in the lineup, he moved up to third midseason, where he went 4-2 in Mid-Con action. Wagner was prone to long matches, as 11 of his 31 singles contests went the distance.
Junior Mike Shideler also played in the middle of the lineup alongside Wagner in 2005-2006. Shideler also finished 4-2 during the league portion of the schedule while also finishing at .500 (14-14) in doubles action.
The third junior on the roster, Dan Brunette, also provided valuable depth for the Brown and Gold last season. As a sophomore, Brunette posted a 9-5 singles mark, including a championship match appearance in the D Flight of the Windy City Invitational.
Alex Lau, the lone sophomore on this year's squad, saw significant action during his rookie season. Playing at the sixth spot in the lineup, Lau went a perfect 6-0 against league foes, and finished the season at .500 overall in both singles (13-13) and doubles (12-12).
With all the experience in his lineup this season, Daugherty brought in just one freshman for the upcoming campaign. Tom Litscher got a taste of collegiate tennis this fall in several tournaments, and will now try and contribute during team competition.
Valparaiso's schedule, like usual, is a demanding one early on. The Crusaders open the year at DePaul on February 2 before heading to Western Michigan the following day. The Crusaders also have road non-conference contests slated against the likes of Ball State, Marquette, Michigan State, and Xavier (Ohio), among others to help ready themselves for league play.
The Crusaders' home opener is set for February 11 when Eastern Illinois visits Matchpoint Tennis Club, with the outdoor opener set for March 28 against Chicago State at the Valparaiso University Tennis Complex. Future Horizon League foes Butler and UIC will also pay a visit to Valpo this year.
The first of two Mid-Con clusters will take place on the campus of IUPUI April 13-14 with the other league matches being contested at Centenary the following weekend.
Valpo has a wealth of experience on the roster to help the Crusaders make one final push towards the Mid- Continent Conference crown. After finishing runner-up one season ago, only time will tell as to whether Valpo can climb up one more rung on the ladder to get to the top. The challenging non-conference slate should help, allowing the Crusaders to be running high by the time the league tournament begins April 27 in Tulsa, Okla.