Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2004
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Tennis Teams Open at Home Saturday
Men’s Squad Small but Strong

The Muhlenberg men’s tennis team has established a winning mentality of late, recording six straight winning seasons, four straight years with at least nine wins and two second-place finishes in the Centennial Conference since 2000.

The 2004 squad will look to keep up the tradition, beginning Saturday with a home match against Goucher.
Brian Barkauskas
Barkauskas (above) and Kraft were 2-0 at No. 1 doubles in the fall.
Weather permitting, the match may be played on the College’s brand-new courts.

The Mules graduated three outstanding seniors, who combined for 246 career wins, from last year’s 9-2 (6-2 CC) team. “Obviously we miss our three big seniors from last year,” said Brian Barkauskas, one of two seniors on this season’s team. “But we’re making up for that with hard practices and other people stepping up.”

All the team members will have to step up, since Muhlenberg begins the season with only seven players on the roster. But there can be strength in small numbers, and Barkauskas identified team unity as one of the Mules’ biggest assets.

Returning to claim the No. 1 spot he shared last year is junior Jeff Kraft, who needed only two years to reach the 50-win mark. Kraft was 6-3 in singles competition last spring and looked very strong in the fall, winning his two singles matches 6-1, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-0.

Barkauskas and junior Mitchell Reading will have to make the biggest leaps on the ladder after playing No. 5 and No. 6 for most of last year. Barkauskas will look to return to the form of his sophomore year, when he went 16-11 in the spring. Reading was 9-2 in both singles and doubles last spring.

Entering the singles roster are sophomores Adam Nodiff and Brad Gutwillig, who excelled as a third doubles team last year, going 9-2. Although they had limited singles action as freshmen, both are looking strong. Rounding out the lineup is senior Gaspare Pizzo, who returns to the team after studying abroad last spring.

Muhlenberg opens CC play with a tough assignment at 18th-ranked Washington on March 21. “We’d love to beat them,” said Barkauskas. “But our big goal for the season is just to be strong and stay focused and not diverge from the way we can play.”

Lofty Goals for Women’s Team

After two years of knocking on the door, the Muhlenberg women’s tennis team is hoping to kick it open and earn its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2004.

The Mules, who open up this weekend with matches against New York University (home on Saturday) and New Jersey (away on Sunday), shared the Centennial Conference championship in 2002, setting a school
Gena Ross
Ross was ranked 24th in the Atlantic South Region after the fall season.
record for wins with a 12-1 final record. Last year, after opening with road losses to their top two rivals for the conference crown, they reeled off 10 straight wins to close out the season. Included in that stretch was a 5-4 victory at Salisbury, which was ranked 17th in Division III at the time and wound up receiving a bid to the NCAAs.

Muhlenberg did not have a single senior on its team in 2003. In addition to the entire squad returning, a talented group of four freshmen who are expected to push their elders for playing time gives the Mules their deepest squad ever.

“We have eight or nine players who are capable of playing in the top six in any given match,” commented senior Sarah Niebler. “That not only helps in practice, when you have people pushing you, but it also gives us insurance against the fluke things that can happen during the season.”

The team will put its depth to the test against an upgraded schedule that includes three NCAA invitees of a year ago: CC rival Swarthmore, national runner-up Washington & Lee and Mary Washington.

With one exception, the Mules enter the season with the same starting lineup they have had the last two years. The team’s No. 1 player is senior Gena Ross, whose CC singles championship capped off a year in which she went 20-3. The lone newcomer to the 2003 lineup was Amy Schmidt, who earned a regional ranking as a freshman by finishing with an 11-2 record.

Senior Mackenzie Parke is a four-year starter and three-year captain who leads all active players in career wins (68) and matches (111). Junior Emily Oster was 8-4 at No. 4 last spring and has won 23 of 26 career spring doubles matches.

Rounding out the returning lineup are Niebler and fellow senior Megan Schreiber, whose strength at singles and as a doubles pair has been one of the keys to the Mules’ success. Niebler is tied for the school record for career singles wins in spring dual matches (31), and Schreiber won a school-record 18 consecutive singles matches earlier in her career.

“We’re excited to play our first matches this weekend and we’re excited to go down to Virginia to play some ranked teams, ” said Niebler. “I think this is going to be the best season in my four years here.”

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Last updated February 25, 2004