The pungent smell of fresh paint and primer loiters throughout the corridor to the enclosed courts. Two unopened boxes containing mirrors rest against a wall. A lobby that one day soon will contain chairs, tables, and a television sits bare.
For the time being, one male and one female restroom – the square footage of which is comparable to a Southwest Airlines lavatory – is open for players and fans. Additional bathrooms still need tile to be laid and light fixtures to be wired.
A future pro shop presently remains empty and dark sans a couple cartons of tennis balls.
Outside, construction equipment is sprawled around the perimeter of The Courts of NWI. The heavy machinery serve as a visual reminder that the job isn’t finished just yet.
There’s no doubt that once the interior is fully completed, the new indoor home of the Valparaiso Crusaders tennis programs will be an immaculate, first-class facility. Opened for business on January 15th, the climate-controlled inflated bubble provides refuge from the frigid, blustery winters of northwest Indiana.
The 40,000-square foot dome is a definitive logistical upgrade over Valpo’s former indoor complexs. Located on the outskirts of Valparaiso, the alternative saves the non-revenue sport substantial time and money.
Prior to using The Courts of NWI, head coach Jim Daugherty’s teams were men without a country. Floating amongst indoor courts in Michigan City, Griffith, and Gary, the Division I team routinely played second fiddle to private lessons in the past. Practice and pre-match plans often had to be inconveniently altered due to last-minute scheduling conflicts.
The new digs have been more ideal for the Crusaders.
“They (the Courts of NWI) have made us feel like it truly is our home court,” Daugherty said.
The present-day state of the Courts of NWI draws a stark parallel to the men’s tennis program: a raw, but top-notch product; its culmination resting on the near horizon.
Valpo raised eyebrows across the country when it landed commitments from the triumvirate of Jeffrey Schorsch (Perrysburg, Ohio; Perrysburg HS), Dave Bacalla (Skokie, Illinois; Niles North HS), and Kyle Dunn (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; Fond du Lac HS) this past November. All three soon-to-be Crusaders rank in the top 5 of their respective states and top 150 in the nation.
Tennis Recruiting Network was equally charmed when it announced its 2013 winter rankings for Top Men’s Classes last week. The usual BCS suspects dominated the top-25. But coming in tied at 36th with Georgetown University was Valparaiso. Aside from BCS and Ivy League schools, only Cal Poly and William & Mary ranked above the Crusaders.
Keeping with the new construction analogy, these three prep players are being forecast as the crystal chandelier, marble countertop, and California king bed of mid-major college tennis.
Couple them with a flock of current talented freshmen, and the rest of the Horizon League is officially on notice.
But as is the case with many elegant and ornate structures, it’s often the foundation that goes unnoticed in the glitz and glamour.
With respect to Crusader tennis, 5th year senior Chris Baum and junior Eric Honert represent that firm footing.
Where would this Valparaiso tennis squad be without its patriarch and current No. 1 singles player?
“Chris may be one of the best kids I’ve ever coached. He’s a great player because he’s true to himself and his teammates,” Daugherty said.
“Eric is the epitome of leading by example not only in matches but practice. He’s very interested in taking ownership of the team, and he holds teammates accountable on and off the court,” Daugherty continued.
Off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 1996-97 season, the turning of the tide is becoming more evident for a program that has finished below .500 each of the last ten seasons.
Granted, the absence of a Ball State or a Western Michigan on the early, non-conference schedule has helped foster its perfect record. Nevertheless, the Crusaders are showing a level of prowess and marked progress that hasn’t been existent from a Valpo club in a while.
“Our young guys are doing a better job of competing than in the past. They expect to win,” assistant coach Michael Woodson noted.
Daugherty attributes a number of propitious events to the culture change within the tennis program.
“First, securing Michael Woodson as assistant coach was extremely helpful. He does a tremendous job on the recruiting side and he’s passionate about what he’s doing. Administration adding scholarships along with increased outside support has been a remarkable help as well,” the head coach in his 27th year at the helm mentioned.
“Additionally, our facility enhancement has been so important, too. In addition to our new indoor courts, we’re having our outdoor courts resurfaced and adding shelter and bathrooms,” Daugherty remarked.
The improvements to the outdoor courts are scheduled to take place this summer. The facelift of the tennis program is already underway though. The record may not necessarily reflect it this season as Northwestern, Purdue, Western Michigan and a stout upper tier of the Horizon League loom on the schedule.
But similar to any construction project, the excitement typically precedes the finished product.