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Tennis teams earn high rankings to start season

Tuesday, February 26, 2008  
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By Chad Hartwell The Eagles and Lady Eagles tennis teams rank in the top 20 of the NAIA Preseason Coaches Poll for the spring season. The Lady Eagles are ranked No. 13 in the poll and the Eagles are ranked No. 18. The high rankings encouraged head coach Lisa Johnson. "We appreciate the opportunity to begin the season with the respect of the ranking committee and look forward to a great season with few upsets to help keep us in that current position or possibly higher," Johnson said. Some players think the rankings will help them as they start the season, while others do not think the rankings matter. "Having a preseason ranking of 13 is very good going into our first match," senior Piper Johnson said. "I think it puts us at an advantage because we will constantly be challenging ourselves to maintain or exceed this ranking going into nationals." Senior Adalid Martinez only cares about the ranking at the end of the season. "I don't really pay much attention to rankings at the beginning of the season because all those are suppositions," Martinez said. "The ones that really matter to me are the ones that are going to come up once the season has started because that should reflect our performance." Coach Johnson believes that both the men's and women's teams should achieve a great deal of success this season. "We have the greatest depth in both lineups that we've had in my four years of coaching," coach Johnson said. If the teams remain healthy, both the men and women have the opportunity to go to nationals for the tournament. This would be the first trip to nationals in several years for the Eagles and the third year in a row for the Lady Eagles. The players also expect to do well this season. "This is the best team chemistry we have had in the four years that I have been here, and I am really excited to see what we can do against other teams," senior Jennifer Le said. "We should be able to go to nationals and do pretty well." The Eagles will go a long way too, if they are able to keep everyone on the court. "We expect to go to the national tournament this year," senior Derek Viljoen said. "I think we can be a top 10 team as long as everyone stays healthy." Coach Johnson and the players all agree the greatest strength of the two teams is their depth. "This is the deepest team we've had since my freshman year," Viljoen said. "We have people who should be able to compete with almost anyone in NAIA at their position." Coach Johnson believes the weakness of the men's team is cohesiveness. "We've got to get out of our individual mode and into a team mentality in order to use our depth to its greatest potential," coach Johnson said. While the Lady Eagles have more depth, they are also more defined at each position, which coach Johnson sees as their weakness. "As we play our challenge matches from week to week, we have virtually not changed anyone's position in the lineup," coach Johnson said. "As competitors, it's always good to be pushed in order to hold your position, and we're not always able to accomplish that." The leaders of the two teams are the seniors and the team captains. The Eagle's captains, Ryan Stephenson and Viljoen, are both seniors. "Those two, along with fellow senior Martinez, are the driving force behind the Eagles," coach Johnson said. Le and Piper Johnson are the only two seniors on the Lady Eagle's squad. Le and sophomore Leila Keihani are captains of the women's team. "Our team camaraderie and closeness is a direct result of what those two have done to draw the girls closer together," coach Johnson said. This season ends coach Johnson's coaching career at Oklahoma Christian and she will be greatly missed by the players. "I am very thankful coach Johnson has been here the last four years," Le said. "She is a great coach and person and has been a great example to us all." Oklahoma Christian's tennis season will open Feb. 28 at the Oklahoma Tennis Center against Arkansas-Fort Smith. "It would be great if the students could come out and support the team," Martinez said. "You get more pumped when you have people at your side cheering."

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