Tigers Win 1st GPAC Crown
The men's tennis team made history on Saturday afternoon as they punched their first ticket to the NAIA National Tournament since the program was reinstated in 1991. Doane defeated Hastings College, 5-3, in the championship after topping Nebraska Wesleyan University, 5-0, in the semifinals
With years of struggling to find enough players to complete a full roster, this group of Tigers has helped revitalize a team that last dominated the conference in the 1970s. On Saturday they erased several years of struggles.
"This is so awesome and indescribable," Doane senior Ross Schulenberg commented. "My freshman year we only had six players and when we arrived at matches our opponents looked at us as an easy win. Now when we step on the court, our opponents have fear in knowing what Doane is capable of."
Schulenberg has carried the team on his shoulders the past four years, playing at No. 1 in both singles and doubles. On Saturday, however, he dropped both of his matches but Coach Pete Fiumefreddo said it was a total team effort.
"The rest of the guys helped pick Ross up today," Fiumefreddo said. "He has carried the team for the last few years and now we have a team around him to help carry the load."
On Friday, the Tigers knocked off Nebraska Wesleyan for the third straight time. Until last year, Doane had lost every match against the Prairie Wolves since 1991.
Doane swept through the doubles matches. Schulenberg teamed with Tyler Johnson for an 8-4 win at No. 1 doubles. Sebastian Gardefjord and Dylan Ramey won by an 8-4 score as well at No. 2 doubles. Sam Tipton and Chance Hohensee won at No. 3 doubles, 8-5.
Schulenberg and Gardefjord clinched the victory by winning their singles matches at No. 1 and 2, respectively.
The Tigers played in their first GPAC Tournament Championship match on Saturday when they faced off against Hastings. The Broncos defeated Doane earlier in the year, 6-3, in Crete.
The doubles action set the tone for the Tigers, keyed by an upset at No. 3 doubles. Tipton and Hohensee won 8-4 and handed Isaac Mertens and Joe Ritzdorf their first loss of the season against a GPAC opponent.
Singles action was tight and it appeared that Hastings was set to make a comeback after evening the match up at 3-3 through six finished matches. Johnson dropped his first set at No. 3 singles but bounced back to win the final two as the Tigers went up 4-3 in the matches.
Muijj Ghani dropped his first set, 6-0, at No. 5 singles but Coach Fiumefreddo kept reminding Ghani that he was wearing down his opponent and to stay confident. Ghani bounced back by taking the final two sets, 6-4, 6-4, to send the Tigers to the NAIA National Tournament.
The win also gave the Tigers their first win over Hastings since Fiumefreddo took over the program in 2000.
"I didn't think this was possible my freshman year but Coach Pete and I had our eyes on the ultimate goal and the turn around started my sophomore year," Schulenberg said. "The team dedication improved and practices went from 'be a part of the team and have fun' to 'working hard for the ultimate success of a championship'."
The year has not been a typical one with winter weather into May making outdoor practices tough to come by. Doane is also renovating Fuhrer Field House which had two indoor tennis courts. Come next year, the Tigers will have four indoor courts following the completion of the project.
Schulenberg said of the complications in facility usage, "We were challenged this year when we lost our indoor courts to practice on (due to renovations) and with the weather making it difficult to practice outside. The team had to find ways to stay ready such as extra running or weight workouts."
The Tiger senior had the following write-up that he shared… "My freshman year, having only six guys to make up a team, Doane was laughed at when we showed up to play other teams. Eyes on the goal, Pete and I have now seen the day. GPAC Champions. Doane is the team to beat and is no joke. The team has done it. We are BIG."
Doane is scheduled to learn of the opponent at the NAIA National Tournament on May 9. The national tournament is in Mobile, Alabama, from May 14-18.