It’s safe to say few 21-year-old coeds possess both the maturity and the moxie to balance a highly rigorous mechanical engineering program while playing No. 1 singles at the Division I level.
And Eric Honert is not just getting by in either arena; he's at the head of the class.
Last week’s Horizon League Player of the Week is a member of Tau Beta Pi, the Engineers Honors Society, in addition to leading the Valparaiso Crusaders in singles victories each year he has been on campus.
He hails from Arvada, Colorado, a suburb some 20 minutes northwest of Denver. And except for an overmatched two-week stretch of the schedule in mid-February, Honert has experienced plenty of Rocky Mountain highs while amassing a team-best 18 victories.
“Over the past couple years my game has become a lot more consistent. I try to work the point longer so that I can get a ball that I can put away easier than if I hadn’t waited so long,” Honert said.
The junior graduated from No. 2 to No. 1 singles this past season and has seen a program rejuvenated with a roster filled with peppy freshmen. While fifth-year senior Chris Baum represents the elder statesman for the 2012-2013 club, Honert will be the head honcho when Valpo welcomes a trio of three highly-touted incoming freshman next year.
The youth movement serves Honert’s leadership style just fine. Talking with the 21-year-old who exudes more Gandhi than Bluto Blutarsky, one gets the impression his insight will be well-received by the baby Crusaders.
“With this younger roster, my goal with this team has been to try to be a silent leader. Chris is the senior on the team and he can be the vocal one. I’ll eventually have my time to fill that role. I want to show the team throughout practice and matches through my actions what I expect from them: 110 percent every day no matter the circumstances with a calm, intimidating demeanor,” Honert went on to say.
Along with his business-first approach, Honert’s work ethic has been praised several times by head coach Jim Daugherty.
“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 says.
As of Friday, Valparaiso’s record currently sits at 11-8. The Crusaders have to win just one of their next four matches to ensure a winning record for the first time in ten seasons.
Loftier expectations await an unripe roster, but the culture change is under way.
“This year’s culture has been a great contributor to how many wins that we have achieved thus far. What has been really helpful is the guys that are not playing are still extremely loud and pumped up for the team. For me, this has made a difference. The atmosphere is more of one that is of a positive nature that seeks to give the team that little extra push that is sometimes necessary in a match,” Honert remarked.
Though considered mid-major, the Horizon League is home to a bevy of strong men’s tennis programs within the conference.
Green Bay, Cleveland State, and Wright State all represent the upper echelon with rosters jam-packed with international players. Valparaiso is the lone Horizon League men’s tennis team with a completely domestic roster.
“A lot of these teams have gotten better through the years and they play as tough or tougher of a schedule that we do. This is the time that we can define what Valpo tennis is really about. As a team, our goal is to win conference and if we put our head to it and perform every weekend with all gears firing, we can do it,” Honert says.
A generation whose members strive to possess swag and whose mantras include pearls like “YOLO”, the young Crusaders have a refined leader in Eric Honert, a young man well beyond his years.