CHICAGO – The Roosevelt University men's and women's tennis teams battled through a tough schedule in 2013. Despite facing adversity along the way, the Lakers accomplished some major milestones this past season.
With a youthful roster the men's team finished fourth in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Lakers finished the regular season with a record of 4-7. After not winning a single match in the previous two seasons, Roosevelt broke through with four victories in 2013 and advanced to the CCAC semifinals for the first time in program history.
"The men's team had almost an entire lineup of freshmen, so they were all new guys," said Roosevelt head coach Jim Bates. "We went 0-12 the season before. This past year was the start, the launching of what is going to be a program. Before we were asking ourselves how to keep a team together, and now we have a legitimate tennis team."
The Lakers did not start the season in the fashion they envisioned, as they were unable to grab a win against the highly talented Ashford squad in the season opener. However, rookies Jake Cigelnik, Tyler Weber, and Farhan Shakeel made their collegiate debuts and were eager to gain experience.
After taking a few weeks off, Roosevelt headed to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to compete in the 2013 Professional Tennis Registry (PTR) Spring TennisFest. In their third day of the tournament, the Roosevelt men's tennis team won its first dual match since the program was revived in 2010-11. The Lakers dominated Frostburg State in a 9-0 shutout.
A slew of Lakers turned in their first collegiate singles and doubles wins to record the historic victory for the program against Frostburg State on March 21. Cigelnik, Shakeel, Matt Kuntzi, Trenton Jones, and Dolton Rothe were all victorious in paired and solo competition, while Tyler Weber had a singles win and Brett Hoffman contributed with a doubles victory.
The Lakers followed the huge accomplishment by winning two of their next three matches. In their first CCAC match and home opener of the year, the team finished with a dominating 9-0 decision over Purdue Calumet. This was the Laker's first CCAC win since the revival of athletics at Roosevelt.
Roosevelt also proved to be too much for Calumet College of St. Joseph as the team captured a 7-2 victory on April 6. The Lakers seized all doubles points and won two of the four singles matches played against the Crimson Wave. Cigelnik, Shakeel, Hoffman, and Rothe all recorded wins in singles and doubles, while Kuntzi and Jones earned the win at No. 1 doubles.
While Roosevelt saw improvements in play, they still battled their youth and inexperience. The team struggled overall in the next couple matches, as Cigelnik scored the only point in those matches. He had an impressive three-set comeback win at No. 3 singles against Olivet Nazarene on April 17. Cigelnik rallied back from a closely-contested 7-6 opening-set loss to win the next two sets with a 6-4 decision and a 10-3 tiebreaker to pick up the singles victory.
In the opening round of the CCAC tournament, the Lakers faced Calumet College of St. Joseph on April 23. Roosevelt ended with a final 6-3 win to help them advance to the CCAC semifinals. Cigelnik and Shakeel won their doubles match and tallied singles victories to lead a heroic act for the Green and White.
"There were two big highlights for the men that stand out," added Bates. "The 9-0 win against Frostburg State was the first win in the modern era of Roosevelt sports. Then, the men got to the semi-finals [in the CCAC tournament], beating Cal St. Joe in the first round. Those were huge for us."
The season came to an end for the Roosevelt men's tennis team as the Lakers fell to host St. Francis in the CCAC semifinals by a final of 6-0 on April 26.
On the women's side, Roosevelt finished sixth in the CCAC, which is one of the toughest conferences in the NAIA.
After a tough opener at Ashford, the Lakers looked to turn things around at the 2013 PTR Spring TennisFest in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The team put up a valiant effort in a competitive 6-3 loss to East Stroudsburg on March 18. Valerie Vasquez went unbeaten on the day, pairing with Danielle Smith to win an 8-6 doubles match, and going on to pick up a 10-2 victory at No. 2 singles. Rookie Olivia Schimweg also won her first collegiate singles match, in an 11-10 battle.
Roosevelt came out strong in the final match of the PTR Spring TennisFest, but finished a point short in a 5-4 loss to Frostburg State on March 21. Vasquez, Smith, Ernesta Ignotaite, and Schimweg all scored singles victories in the contest.
Despite being winless in the spring season, Roosevelt came out with something to prove in its home opener and conference match against Purdue Calumet on March 30. The team edged its CCAC rival by a 5-4 tally in a very close contest. Carina Balan, Ignotaite, and Smith were all victorious in both singles and doubles play for the Lakers. Ignotaite rallied back after a first-set loss to win 6-2 in the second set and 10-7 in the tiebreaker decision. Michelle Ibanez also recorded her first doubles win for Roosevelt at the No. 2 spot.
"The Purdue Cal match was a highlight because the girls fought a lot of adversity and played with a lot of emotion," said Bates. "The girls stepped up in different positions. They pulled a rabbit out of a hat and beat a tough team. All through the season, those girls fought, fought, fought and never gave up."
Roosevelt unfortunately could not build off this success for the remainder of the season.
In the opening round of the CCAC tournament, the Lakers were unable to hold off Judson. Despite giving their best effort, Judson took the 9-0 decision to continue to the semifinals while the Lakers' season came to an end.
With several positives to take away from the season, both the Roosevelt men's and women's teams will look to propel to further success in the CCAC season standings and postseason tournament during the 2013-14 season.
"I run a pretty tough fall season, facing great competition from NCAA Division I and II schools such as Western Illinois and Valpo and at the ITA regionals," said Bates. "Next year, I want the men to make a run at conference. We have the ability to win conference and make it to the conference championships."
"The goal with the women's team is to throw them into really intense competition early and get them ready," continued Bates. "We are losing Carina and Danielle to graduation so it will be more of a rebuilding year for the women's team. I want to introduce [the new girls] to a new level of playing and game mentality for the spring."
Feature written by special contributor Erin McCaslin, Roosevelt University student-athlete