John Carroll University’s men’s and women’s tennis seasons almost didn’t begin.
Both teams make an annual trip over spring break to warm up for the upcoming season. This year was different because four days before the trip the teams had no coach.
In January, former coach, Bruce Thomas, stepped down leaving the men’s and women’s position empty.
After the resignation, JCU was forced to find a replacement for a coach that had led both teams to a conference title less than 12 months before.
That replacement was Ben Hodgkiss-Lilly, a former standout at Wittenberg College.
Hodgkiss-Lilly was given the chore of getting both teams to Hilton Head two days before the trip, having barely any prior knowledge about either team.
“I was just glad that we made the trip,” Hodgkiss-Lilly said, “that was the biggest victory of the trip.”
Another hurdle Hodgkiss-Lilly faces is defending two team titles with only nine returning players from the 2006 campaign.
The men’s team returns are sophomore Alex Campanelli, sophomore James Steward, junior Jeff Copp and senior Chris Masci. These four will act as the core of a team filled with underclassmen. Ten players are underclassmen, six are freshmen.
Despite being comprised of numerous underclassmen, the team recorded a 2-4 record on their trip to Hilton Head over spring break.
The 2-4 record is deceiving because JCU was playing Division II and NAIA teams, a slight step up from their usual OAC competition.
JCU recorded their two wins over Lebanon Valley and Tri State. They first toppled Lebanon Valley 5-2 and then rolled Tri-State 6-1 in the third match of the trip.
While the biggest victory may have been making it to Hilton Head, the team also learned a lot about the young talent they have.
One player that stood out to coach Hodgkiss-Lilly was freshman Alex Millar, “Alex turned in a consistent performance for the entire trip.”
Combined with returning veterans and young talent, the men’s team should threaten for the OAC title again in 2007.
As for the JCU women, they face a similar road to a second straight OAC title. There are only four returning players from 2006 and only two have major playing experience.
Senior Elizabeth Spirk and junior Sarah Crane will be the anchors for the inexperienced squad. As a doubles pair they will be pivotal to JCU’s success this season.
“Sarah and Elizabeth will be strong as our one and two players,” Hodgkiss-Lilly added, “but you cannot win with just two players.”
Coupled with the experience that Spirk and Crane provide, junior Allison Balestrino and senior Sarah Hipp will provide leadership and experience to a team heavy with freshmen.
“Both Sarah and Elizabeth did a great job keeping the team together before I got here,” Hodgkiss-Lilly said.
The trip to Hilton Head provided a report card for the young team. Playing a similar schedule to the men, the women’s team recorded a 3-5 record on their spring trip.
JCU went on a three game tear beating Lynchburg 7-2, Stonehill 5-4 and Brevard 6-3.
The valuable experience gained on the Hilton Head trip will carry the women into their OAC schedule.
Like the men, knowing they have freshmen that can compete at the college level will be pivotal in recapturing the OAC crown.
The first OAC test for the women comes today at Marietta, then their home opener Saturday against Capital. The men travel to Capital on Saturday for their first OAC match of the season.