By Nick Dingus, Sports Editor (Courtesy Photos/Bison Athletics)
Heading into March, Oklahoma Baptist tennis is poised to make waves in post-season play.
Over the last three years, despite transitioning from the NAIA to the NCAA, OBU has steadily built a tennis dynasty poised to challenge the likes of the University of Central Oklahoma.
The men’s team headed into the season at number 21 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) national rankings; they are the first OBU team to be nationally ranked in the NCAA era. However, following back-to-back losses to 19th ranked Washburn University February 10 (4-5) and 13th ranked Drury University February 16 (1-8), the Bison fell out of the top 25 rankings February 27.
Since then the men have rebounded, winning their next three games against Lindenwood University (5-4), Cowley Community College (5-4) and Seminole State (5-4).
The women who were unranked entering the season, have strung together an impressive set of wins, beginning their season with a 4-1 record. Their single loss coming at the hands of 12th ranked Drury (4-5).
The Lady Bison have looked good, winning five matches by a combined score of 40-5, including two straight sets of victories versus Lindenwood and Great American Conference foe, Southern Nazarene University.
The Bison are looking to build on strong 2016-2017 campaigns which saw both men’s and women’s teams being crowned National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) national champions.
Additionally, the men’s team was granted an exemption from the NCAA’s usual post-season ineligibility for provisional members and as a result, won OBU’s first NCAA post-season championship.
However, their provisional status prevented them from receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA championship tournament.
Each the men’s and women’s team brought back strong players from a year ago. However, each team lost three high-caliber players to graduation.
The Lady Bison bid farewell to NCCAA All-American Olivia Charvat, as well as the doubles pair of Alex Morales and Kathryn Sild. The Morales/Sild tandem set the OBU record for doubles wins in a season with 14 during the 2016-2017 season. On the men’s side, second-team All-GAC Thomas Ackerknecht graduated along with Ian Sims and Michael Vetter.
One of the key aspects of OBU tennis’s success has to be the coach’s ability to bring in talent from all around the world. Between the men’s and women’s teams, there are eight different countries represented. Four of those are women: Madeleine Boepple (Ger-many), Kim Moosbacher (Germany), Kateryna Shkot (Ukraine) and Tahlia Walsh (New Zealand).
The men’s team is made up completely of international players from Brazil, Chile, Germany, India and Spain. Even though many of the teams at OBU do an excellent job of recruiting athletes from overseas, especially for a small university, the tennis organization has truly excelled as 73 percent of their athletes come from overseas, with Germany being represented the most with three hailing from various parts of the central European nation.
Despite their strong rebound from a 0-2 start, the men’s team looks to continue to get better every day.
“We are building every day with the goal to peak at the end of April just in time for the GAC Championships and NCAA Championships,” said coach Nick Papac.
Even though they are deep with talented players, the Bison will face several tough challenges in the coming months. Their schedule itself is altogether very similar to the previous season. Their toughest competition will undoubtedly be against their two Division I opponents, Fresno State and Abilene Christian. Among their Division II opponents they will also have to face a tough Midwestern State team who is ranked eleventh in the country, as well as GAC rival Southeastern Oklahoma State.
The women’s team will also face two division one teams when they face off against the Air Force Academy and Abilene Christian.
They will have to face several other strong opponents in the coming months. Their two most difficult matches will come in back to back matches, first against powerhouse Central Oklahoma whose only loss on the season came at the hands of the Division I Eastern Michigan; in the following match they will face off against the currently undefeated St. Edwards team who has not only beat the 13th ranked division two team, Sonoma State, but also a Division I opponent, Prairie View A&M. Within their GAC competition, the ladies will likely have to go through Southeastern Oklahoma State in order to win their first NCAA era conference title.