Tennis teams prepare for conference matches


Morgan Francis serves in Baker’s match against Ottawa on March 28. Photo by Alex Fortuna.

Story by Chad Mullen, Writer

The Baker tennis teams are on a hot streak heading into a stretch of matches against conference opponents, with both the men and women winning their past three matches. First-year head coach Keith Pipkin didn’t even realize it.

“I just go one match at a time, honestly,” he said following the teams’ most recent wins over Hesston College. “Tennis is a game of confidence, so it’s good to string together wins, but at the same time every match is different. You can only focus on so much at once.”

Much of his focus has been on adjusting to his first college head coaching position after serving as an assistant at Baker from 2011-2013. He then left to become a head coach, first at Baldwin High School, then at Lawrence Free State High School in Lawrence. His familiarity with the program gives him a sense of comfort, but he knows there is still work to do.

“It’s definitely been a learning opportunity,” he said. “I wasn’t exactly sure of how they would react to a new coach, but I was confident that we would figure things out together and we would be comfortable with each other.”

After both teams earned victories over Bethel College and Ottawa University last month, the men took down Hesston on Saturday 8-1, and the women won via forfeit. The men moved to 5-4 on the season, while the women now sit at 7-4. The one match loss came on Saturday at the No. 1 singles spot.

“(Junior Blake Barnard) wasn’t at 100 percent, but he still went out there and gave everything he had against a good opponent,” Pipkin said.

One player on the men’s side who has been racking up wins is junior Thomas Irick, who has been playing at the No. 2 spot.

“Our number one is great, and (Irick) has also been playing great,” Pipkin said. “Thomas has really dominated these last few matches, so he would be the one I’m most impressed with.”

The lower seeds and doubles teams on both sides have also been consistently winning lately, which has pleased Pipkin.

“We could always have more depth. We have a couple of injuries right now,” he said. “When it comes down to conference, I’m not sure how our depth will stack up, but for the teams we have beaten the last three matchups, that is what really shined through.”

Although they did not play formal matches this past weekend, Pipkin is excited for the prospects of the women’s team against the coming conference opponents.

“Our women should be top three in the conference,” he said. “The talent we have on that side is very impressive, and next year should be even better.”

The upcoming conference stretch starts Friday against the Missouri Valley Vikings in Marshall, Missouri.

“Mo Valley is great. They’ll be vying for conference, and William Woods is in the top 10,” he said. “Our win streak might be damaged this coming weekend, but it’s good to get whooped every once in a while. You learn more from the losses than you do from the wins.”