In its fifth year after an absence of six, the Northwestern women’s tennis team is up and practicing but with a catch: anyone interested is welcome to come along for the ride.
The Raiders tennis squad entered the year with eight members, but a series of events has dropped the roster to five.
“We need six to play,” said coach Jeff Guthmiller. “It really put us in kind of a bind.”
Tennis players are uncommon in Northwest Iowa, and recruiting can be difficult. The loss of three players prior to the spring semester added to that difficulty. An email was sent out to the female population on campus to invite anyone with past experience or any desire to play to try out for the team.
One of those five remaining players is sophomore Hannah Stark, who has been playing since eighth grade.
“I decided on NW tennis mainly because I loved the school, and being able to play tennis was a major bonus,” she said. “The program was small, but I was interested in being able to continue my love of tennis after high school.”
Stark and the other members of the program were recruited in by coach Guthmiller, who returned to the helm after the termination and renewal of the program.
“When I came back into coaching again this time,” Guthmiller said, “I said I would only come back if I made it a priority to try to bring tennis players to NW for the program, much like other sports do.”
A couple of factors contributed to the termination of the program in the first place. One factor was the lack of facilities. NW’s program uses the city’s tennis courts, and they were in bad condition.
The courts have since been redone, and Guthmiller said he is pleased with the results.
“They’ve been completely redone,” he said. “They are some of the nicest courts we’ve played on anywhere.”
“Anywhere” includes all the GPAC schools, besides Dordt and Briar Cliff. The tennis team travels around the conference, as well as up to the Minneapolis area and into Des Moines, to play between 17 and 22 matches per season. Also, every other year the team takes a spring break trip; this past season, the Raiders headed to California for a tournament. No trip will be taken this break.
Although it might be difficult with such a small program, the team finds peace. Sophomore Frankie Eszes, who has been playing since age five, said she chooses to see the positive.
“Although we have a small team, we have become really close, and that has helped us tremendously,” Eszes said.
Stark echoed those sentiments.
“Having a small team has its pros and cons, but I would say that being a small team has made us close knit and more dependent on each other,” Stark said.
The team believes that close bond and hard work put in at practice will pay off when the Raiders kick off the season on Feb. 2 with a nonconference match.