After compiling a 20-2 record in 2009, the Ouachita Baptist University men’s tennis team finished the season ranked No. 8 in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Also announced by ITA were the final season individual rankings, which included three Tigers in the top 50 players in Division II singles play.
“Any time you finish in the top 10, it is a very successful season,” noted tennis coach Craig Ward. “We have the core of the team returning for next year. If we stay motivated, work hard and have fun then we will again be one of the best in the country.”
The Tigers had a perfect regular season run, finishing at 18-0 heading to the Gulf South Conference tournament. After victories over Alabama-Huntsville and No. 10 West Florida in the first two rounds of the GSC tournament, the Tigers faced No. 4 Valdosta State in the GSC finals for a second straight season, losing to the Blazers 5-0 and finishing as runners-up in the conference final.
The remarkable season came to an end with a loss to No. 9 West Florida, 5-2, in the second round of the semifinals in the 2009 NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis South Region I Tournament at Miami Shores, Fla.
In the midst of the season’s success, the team developed a balanced core that led to victories from six singles spots and three doubles teams, Coach Ward said.
“The key to our team is that everybody is willing to play any position to help us be successful,” Ward explained. “We have eight guys that completely trust their teammates to give 100 percent day in and day out. That’s been the difference in this season and in seasons past.”
While the team was extremely successful, a number of individual accolades also were earned. The Tigers swept the GSC Men’s Tennis All-Conference awards, including GSC West Player of the Year and GSC West Freshman of the Year. For the first time in his career, Coach Ward won GSC Coach of the Year honors. While it was his first time to be honored by the GSC, Ward received the 1995 Intercollegiate Tennis Association NAIA Collegiate Coach of the Year award.
For the fourth consecutive season, Ouachita swept the individual awards for the West Division. Sophomore Jan Plewinski garnered Player of the Year honors a season after being named Freshman of the Year. Plewinski was ranked No. 14 in the nation in singles play with a 13-4 record, and No. 14 in doubles play with sophomore Till Heilshorn with a 17-3 record. Heilshorn finished the season ranked No. 31 in the nation in singles play.
Freshman Jean Charles Diame was tabbed the GSC top newcomer, gaining Freshman of the Year accolades. Diame was ranked No. 49 in singles play while playing in the three spot for the Tigers and had an undefeated record at 20-0. Diame also recorded a 16-6 doubles record with freshman Pierre Tafelski.
Heilshorn and Tafelski also received honors, making the All-GSC West Division Team, giving the Tigers four players on the eight-player team.
“Everybody comes to work every single day to do what needs to be done,” Ward said. “At the end of the day, we’ll truly be able to say we did over very best.”
By Alan Greenwood