Tennis heats up in the Sunshine State


Photo courtesy of Annalise Skrade

Ellie Hemker (‘20) and Megan Grimm (‘22) high-five on the United States Tennis Assocation National Campus courts during games over spring break.

Aidan O'Driscoll, Staff Writer

Members of the Luther Men’s and Women’s Tennis Teams spent the morning and early afternoon of March 20 shoveling snow off the tennis courts in the hopes of sneaking in one last practice outdoors, before they left for their spring break trip to Orlando, Florida. Some 36 hours later, they landed in Florida having snuck in said practices and were preparing for their first matches of the week. With temperatures hovering around the 80s and the sun blanketing the United States Tennis Association National Campus, both teams took to the courts to face-off against teams from Stevens Institute of Technology on March 21 and came home with winning records after the week of competition. 

Feelings regarding this transition from Iowa to Florida were perhaps most aptly encapsulated by Jake Smith (‘19).

“As soon as we stepped off the plane, you knew: this was tennis weather,” Smith said.

The matches against Stevens Institute of Technology were the first of five matches the men’s and women’s teams would play during the course of the week. The Luther men also played Calvin College, Hope College, Whitworth University, and Huntingdon College.  The women played Calvin College, Pacific University, George Fox University, and Whitworth University.

Photo courtesy of Annalise Skrade
Jake Smith (‘19) and Brian Murman (‘19) play in Orlando over spring break.

Prior to arriving in Orlando, both the men’s and women’s teams had not played matches for two and a half weeks but for differing reasons. For the women, the schedule is designed as such, given their fall season is slightly denser than the men’s. For the men, however, the weather had been uncooperative. Three of their eight scheduled matches have been cancelled, including the two immediately before the Orlando trip, due to inclement weather. 

According to Nate Parsons (‘19), Florida offered the prospect of consistency weather-wise with its distinct lack of snowstorms.

“It’s been tough to get into a rhythm [because of the weather in Decorah],” Parsons said before the trip. “[But with] five matches down there in a week, I think it is usually when we start picking up speed a little bit.”

While the Orlando trip is a means of playing guaranteed matches, it is also an opportunity to grow as a team.

“It’s really a week for us to come together in our culture, to have a strong week to grow,” Head Men’s and Women’s Tennis Coach Adam Strand (‘04) said. “Obviously it has been growing throughout the spring and the school year already, but this is a week where they are away from class, they are living in a house together, they are around each other 24/7 more or less, so it’s a really neat week for the teams to come together and bond and spend a lot of quality time together.”

When not practicing or playing, members of the teams went mini-golfing, explored Downtown Disney, visited the Kennedy Space Center, swam, and grilled out at their residences for the week, conveniently located a short drive away from the USTA National Campus.

“Bonding-wise, it’s cool to live in a house with your teammates,” Parsons said. “We all have to share groceries and divvy up tasks, but it does help both off the court and on the court.”

The conclusion of the week saw both teams add wins to their overall record. The men’s side improved to 8-2 in the American Rivers Conference, losing their first match to Stevens 3-6, but finishing the week on a four match winning streak. Smith earned A-R-C Athlete of the Week honors for his performances in Orlando, winning all five of his matches.

On the women’s side, Luther improved to 11-6 overall in the A-R-C, going 3-2 over the course of the week, winning against Stevens, George Fox, and Pacific.

Both teams are hoping to continue these performances in the latter half of the spring season and into the A-R-C Automatic Qualifiers Tournament on April 26-27 for the women and May 3-4 for the men.

For Britta Pressler (‘19) and the rest of the Luther women’s team, there are a number of important regional matches in the upcoming weeks.

“We are all looking forward to being outside now that it is warming up and just to play better competition too,” Pressler said. “Because we do play some really good Minnesota and Wisconsin teams [in the near future], but we are all just really excited to see what happens this second half.”

The men’s team, too, will be looking to continue winning moving forward. On Saturday, March 23, they defeated Hope College, ranked just below Luther, 6-3.

“We are on a really good streak right now and I think we are going to keep riding that wave into these next matches, and the win against Hope was really big for us too,” Smith said. “We know that we are going to be playing, in these next couple weeks, teams like Carleton and Grinnell, who are a little above us in the rankings. So we know that we are supposed to be here and competing side by side with them. That’s what we can take from this experience in Florida, that we can compete with the best of them.”

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