Manchester University's men's and women's squads take to the courts for the first time in 2013-14 with duals at Indiana University-East Thursday, Sept. 5, and Franklin College Saturday, Sept. 7.
Dual specifics: First serve against the Red Wolves of IU-East is 4 p.m. Thursday at Glenn Miller Park in Richmond, while the duals against Franklin, both scheduled as non-conference, begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at FC's tennis courts.
Spartan Shorts: A large share of returning experience on both the 2013 Manchester University men's and women's teams has head coach Eric Christiansen enthusiastic about the upcoming campaigns.
"We're going to need the returners to show the way to the first-year players," Christiansen said. "I'm hoping that the upperclassmen and upperclasswomen will work well with the sophomores and freshmen to help create a successful season."
Beginning with the women, the Spartans look to improve on a top four finish in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference of a year ago.
"We've got a good situation (to reach some higher goals)," Christiansen said. "With so much returning experience on the squad, it's a matter of they know what I expect from them and vice versa."
Seniors Kara Gilley (Plymouth, Ind.), Brandy Leeper (Bremen, Ind.), Abby Berry (Huntington, Ind.) and Jillian Bower (Galveston, Ind.), a starter two years ago and spring team member in 2013, made up a large share of the team's success in 2012-13. Gilley, a three-time all-HCAC selection, and Leeper, a two-time all-HCAC honorable mention honoree, will battle for the top two spots, according to Christiansen, and Berry and Bower will be in the mix for four, five or six singles and the final two doubles' spots.
Beyond that group, the Black and Gold have the sophomore trio of Megan Buckner (Muncie, Ind.), Morgan Wolf (Lafayette, Ind.) and Melinda Penrod (Penville, Ind.) to provide depth and competition for the middle singles and doubles spots. The Spartans will also have four freshmen coming in, according to Christiansen.
"With Kara and Brandy up front, I think our one and two singles and top doubles pairing is in good shape," he said. "However, we need to have the remainder of the seniors and sophomores try and step in and work hard towards the middle singles and final two doubles slots. I like what each of the sophomores did last year, especially in the spring, to push towards that.
"Competition will be strong in preseason practices," he added. "It's what we'll need to be better for another rugged schedule. The conference will be a battle every dual, and our non-conference matches will test us, too."
MU's men have a similar experienced make-up going into the fall. When the Spartans opened practice this week, they had their six of their seven-person roster intact from 2012-13 and a group of five freshmen.
"Even with everyone back, I still expect some competition," Christiansen said. "That is what we use the fall duals for. …. To see how things will shake out for the spring."
The Black and Gold have seniors Bobby Swaby (Farmersburg, Ind.) and Miro Arguijo III (Corpus Christi, Texas), junior Phil Truitt (Huntington, Ind.), sophomore Matt Buncich (Goshen, Ind.), junior Alex Winger (Warsaw, Ind.) and sophomore Ryan Hawkins (LaPorte, Ind.) returning. Junior Kyle Lahman (North Manchester, Ind.) also returns but is sidelined for a while with an early-season injury.
"Nothing can be taken for granted," Christiansen said. "We're coming off of one of the best spring finishes in a decade (placing seventh in the conference), but the guys want to improve on that. There will need to be some work done, and I expect that this fall with the freshmen coming in to push for spots."
Busy Week Ahead: MU's women play three duals in six days when they take on Huntington College in their home opener Monday, Sept. 9, go to Adrian College of Michigan Wednesday, Sept. 11 and then officially open the 2013 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference schedule Saturday, Sept. 14, with a trip to Transylvania University.