Tennis teams look for big spring

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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After a tough slate of competition in the fall, Baker tennis looks to carry its success into the spring. Under coach Joe Ahmadian, both teams have a promising season ahead with two different types of teams.

Men’s Tennis

The top two players for the men will be junior Spartak Rahachou, who played football this past season after transferring from Johnson County Community College, and Venezuelan Gianfranco Moncada.

Moncada was a big part of the men’s tennis team in the past but has missed the past three semesters.

“Two years ago he played number one for us and competed really well for us and lost only one conference match as the number one,” Ahmadian said. “He should’ve gotten better the last couple of years and he should be at number two this upcoming spring because Spartak (Rahachou) will likely take that number one spot.”

Baker also has some veteran performers in juniors Aaron Greenbaum and Michael Draper as well as sophomore Gavin Webster.

“We’re definitely loaded and ready to go at the top of the lineup, which is where we have historically not been as strong as some of the other conference teams,” Ahmadian said.

Draper believes that this will be a big year for the team.

“We had a solid fall and we have quite a bit of freshmen so it was good to get them some experience in the fall to set them up for the spring,” Draper said. “Also we were without our two best players Spartak (Rahachou) and Gianfranco Moncada so everyone will move down two spots and we have a chance to make some noise.”

Women’s Tennis

On the women’s side Baker will field a young squad featuring nine freshmen but also has veterans in juniors Megan Henry and Victoria Bostic, as well as sophomore Jaimie Myers. Ahmadian is confident in Henry’s ability to be at the top, but is excited for this semester’s roster additions.

“We also have a really good freshman, Brooke Barnard, who should take the two spot for us and that’s very exciting,” Ahmadian said. “In the fall four out of our top six were freshmen so it’s definitely a young squad.”

The women fell in the first round of the grouping last year, but that doesn’t seem to deter this year’s team.

“We competed hard and it was just a tough grouping for us last year,” Ahmadian said. “We’re a lot stronger this year.”

Season outlook

Because there are not enough teams in the Heart of America Athletic Conference to make up a tennis conference, NAIA does independent grouping for teams. It takes conference-less teams in similar circumstances as Baker and groups them together to form a make-shift conference, which changes every year. This year the grouping should add one or two strong teams, but should also consist of a couple of teams that Baker should be able to handle.

The schedule opens up with three NCAA schools: the University of Missouri-Kansas City on Jan. 23, Creighton University on Jan. 31, and Rockhurst University on Feb. 7. The remainder of the schedule features opponents from the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, including Ottawa University, Tabor College, Bethel College, and McPherson College before Baker plays familiar foes in Evangel University, Graceland University, and Missouri Valley College.

“We will be challenged right out of the gate,” Draper said. “ That will be good for us going into the conference portion of our schedule and we just have to step up.”

Ahmadian finds these early tests great for the development of the players.

“I think it’s really good for us to play higher competition early,” Ahmadian said. “I think that’s what makes you better.”

Ahmadian also doesn’t fear for his top players matching up against the top players at the bigger NCAA schools.

“For our top guys in the spring, those are great matches for them. They won’t be in over their head at all with those kind of schools,” Ahmadian said. “It’s exciting for us too to be able to have other coaches at good programs come recognize our resurgence as a program and be willing to schedule us.”

Unfortunately, weather plays a significant factor for nearly every spring sport in the Midwest. The best part about playing these NCAA schools early is that the teams get to play in the indoor facilities that the larger schools are equipped with.

“Any time we can go indoors and play at a bigger school’s facility and get that match play in is really valuable for us,” Ahmadian said.

The vibe from both Ahmadian and Draper is that there is a great opportunity in this season for success and success at a high level.

“We have legitimate talent here now,” Draper said. “It is just up to everyone to be extremely focused and step up.”