As Gonzaga men’s tennis moves past the halfway point in the fall season, players are determined to step up their level of execution to keep seeing improvement.
The Zags started off their season at the EWU Fall Classic Sept. 16-18, traveled to Davis, California, for the Aggie Invitational Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, and last competed at the ITA Northwest Regionals in Berkeley, California, Oct. 13-16. These tournaments have given the team a chance to match up against WCC competition and evaluate how the team is progressing toward the competitive spring season.
“We’ve seen some great individual wins, but more than anything, we are starting to see the guys execute what we’ve been working on in practice,” coach Peter MacDonald said. “The main thing is that the guys aren’t afraid to execute right now.”
Great start at EWU Fall Classic
Multiple players call the EWU Fall Classic the highlight of the season so far. Four Zags took over the finals as Ruadhan O’Sullivan defeated Vincent Rettke in the Red Singles Bracket while Kyle Everly took the victory over Ronzai Saurombe in the Black Singles Bracket. For O’Sullivan, it was his first bracket title since joining the Zags during winter break last season.
Singles strength was the theme of the tournament for GU, as every Bulldog had a win in Cheney. One of the most notable wins was Rettke’s upset victory over Robert Dula of Eastern Washington. As top seed and defending champion of the tournament, Dula was bound to be a tough opponent for the freshmen, who was determined to beat the odds against him.
“I heard that many Gonzaga players have lost to him before and he’s definitely a guy to beat, so that really encouraged me going into the match,” Rettke said.
While the Zags have enjoyed success in singles play with multiple bracket titles, the team has struggled to find the right combination in doubles play. Coach MacDonald praised his team for the comebacks they made at the EWU Fall Classic, but challenged his team to make changes after poor doubles performances continued at the Aggie Invitational.
Turning to video to see their mistakes in action, the Zags were able to make the needed adjustments before the ITAs and raised their level of execution. Two pairs, Everly and Rettke as well as O’Sullivan and Saurombe, advanced to the Round of 32 at the ITAs before falling to the No. 1 and 2 seeded pairs of the tournament.
MacDonald believes the Bulldogs are starting to find some potential winning combinations and sees his team actively learning from their mistakes.
“They are trying to do the right things and I think they are aware when they are making mistakes; that’s half the battle right there,” he said. “Back at Eastern, they weren’t really aware when they were making the mistakes. Now if they do make a mistake, they are conscious of it and are able to make the adjustments.”
Leadership and development
Team captain O’Sullivan is adjusting to his new role and believes his team is poised for a great spring season by using the fall to develop. With a growing culture of team chemistry and a talented freshman class, O’Sullivan believes everyone has contributed to sharing leadership responsibility.
“I’ve got a great group of guys to work with and everyone puts in 100 percent,” O’Sullivan said. “It makes it really easy because we all motivate each other.”
Having a diverse group of people has helped the team grow closer and establish a culture. With four international players and four freshmen, the team sees its youth and diversity as an advantage.
“I like how we are a young team because we can all grow and improve together,” Rettke said. “I think that’s a major thing and it makes us more bonded since we are all starting from scratch.”
With four of the seven players on the team being freshmen, the Zags expect the youngsters to adjust quickly and rise to the challenge. The Zags have answered the call well so far as they helped continue the trend of strong singles play. At the Aggie Invitational, Rettke won the A Singles Consolation Bracket while Sam Feit took the B Singles Consolation Bracket.
During the adjustment to the college game, freshmen like Rettke have already noticed growth. Through going to the gym and team workouts, Rettke is stronger and notices a difference in his strokes, serves and volleys. The freshman from Madison, Alabama also cites the opportunity to play more with good players as a huge part of his development.
“Back in Alabama I’d hit with maybe one or two guys twice a week, but here it is constant playing, which has been great,” Rettke said.
The Zags will continue their mission to develop and execute at home for the Bulldog Classic Oct. 28-30 at the Stevens Center.
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