GAMBIER — The Kenyon College men’s tennis team enters spring competition during what might just turn out to be a transitional time for the program. The Lords’ roster features seven seniors, but members of that class will be pushed by burgeoning talent from both the junior and sophomore classes.
Although the exact lineup might be a work in progress, the intra-squad competition and deep talent pool should only strengthen a team coming off a season in which it won the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) crown for the 11th straight time and made its 16th straight appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Lords ended last season, and will enter the spring season, ranked as the No. 25 team in nation, according to a mid-January poll released by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA).
The leading member of the Lords’ senior class is Michael Liu, who played at the No. 3 position in last year’s lineup. He cranked out an overall record of 13-8 and was named an All-NCAC honorable mention.
Fellow seniors Weston Noall and Alex Rieger emerged as the No. 1 doubles team and finished off last season with a 10-9 mark. Seniors Ben Gelfand, Peter Hazlett and Max Smith also earned playing time last season, but none on a consistent basis.
That left the door open for Nicholas Paolucci, now a junior, as well as Austin Diehl and Jacob Zalenski, now sophomores, to make their marks. For most of the 2016-17 season, Paolucci maintained the top spot in the Lords’ singles lineup. He went 7-10 in that position and 4-1 in the No. 2 position. When Paolucci didn’t play at No. 1, Zalenski did. As a freshman, Zalenski was 3-2 in the top spot and also produced an 11-6 mark in the No. 2 spot. Overall, those two combined to post a 36-22 record in singles play. Paolucci collected an All-NCAC second-team award, while Zalenski was named to the All-NCAC first team and was voted the NCAC Newcomer of the Year.
Like Zalenski, Diehl also made an immediate impact as a freshman. Although he lost time due to an eye injury, he managed to post a 17-6 singles record, playing mainly in the No. 4 spot. Both Zalenski and Diehl never really settled into a consistent doubles role, but they did manage to log respective records of 17-11 and 13-5 while playing with a variety of different teammates.
While the Lords try to figure out the new singles lineup and work on chemistry among the doubles pairings, they’ll also have to compensate for the loss of graduate Tristan Kaye, who last season was 8-6 in singles play. He also was 8-3 in doubles play, teaming in the No. 3 spot with fellow senior Mike Roberts. One season prior, Kaye paired with Sam Geier to win the NCAA Division III Doubles Championship.
In addition to a senior class of seven and junior and sophomore classes of four, the Lords added three freshmen to this year’s roster. All three participated in fall competition and together they posted combined records of 10-9 in singles play and 7-9 in doubles action.
The time to put the Lords’ new lineup to the test starts Saturday with a road match at the University of Northwestern Ohio. The following Saturday, the Lords will host home matches against Kalamazoo College and University of Mary Washington.