By Derek Noehren, Contributor
Despite being picked to finish last and second to last in conference, the Omaha men’s and women’s tennis teams have both gotten off to encouraging starts.
The women’s squad is off to a perfect 2-0 after a 7-0 blowout win over Nebraska Wesleyan, followed by a hard fought 4-3 victory over former North Central Conference rival North Dakota.
“The Nebraska Wesleyan match was a win we expected, but we learned a lot and were able to focus on some different areas that really helped us in the North Dakota match,” said Head Coach Mike Saniuk. “We were really flat in doubles (against Nebraska Wesleyan), and we knew the doubles point would be huge against North Dakota, and we were able to work a couple weeks on that and it really paid dividends.”
Saniuk, who is the head man for both the men’s and women’s teams, credits the focus and determination of the women’s team for their solid start to the season.
“The North Dakota match was probably one we shouldn’t have won, but with the girls on the team and their dedication so far, it’s been paying off and that was a big win for our program,” Saniuk said.
The women’s team has a roster that features three freshman, four sophomores and only one senior and is coming off a 7-12 season in 2011-2012. Despite their relative lack of experience, coach Saniuk likes his young roster now and for the future.
“It’s nice. We’re in a place with our team where technically I don’t have to graduate anyone, everyone’s got eligibility left coming back next year,” Saniuk said. “It sets our team up pretty nice.”
On top of the teams youth, the transitioning Mavericks play their first full slate of Summit League opponents and were picked seventh out of eight teams in the leagues preseason poll.
“Deep down inside there’s a little chip on our shoulder, but the main focus we stress to them is we have to get better every day, and if we do, we’ll prove those people wrong,” Saniuk said. “From a personal standpoint, yeah I have a chip on the shoulder and am ready to prove them wrong, but our focus is to get better and better everyday and all that will take care of itself.”
The men’s team, which is picked last out of six teams is also off to a nice start at 2-2.
The men began their season with a 7-0 loss to Arkansas, whom coach Saniuk called a top 50 team in the nation. The Mavs rebounded with a 7-0 win of their own against Nebraska Wesleyan, followed by a 5-2 loss to conference opponent Western Illinois and then a 6-1 victory over William Jewel.
“We played Western Illinois, and we kind of took a step back and had to go back to the drawing board,” Saniuk said. “Realistically that was one we probably could have stolen away from them, but we didn’t so we went back to the drawing board, and the guys performed really well against William Jewell. That was a very good win for our program.”
For the first time in program history, both men’s and women’s teams will be going on a spring break trip in March to play matches at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.
“I think that it’s huge for the kids, for morale, something to look forward to and a good recruitment tool,” Saniuk said. “The nice thing is that the kids get to practice in a different enviornment and play teams from the east coast that we normally wouldn’t get to play.”
The men’s and women’s teams will both play Bethune-Cookman and New Jersey Institute of Technology at Hilton Head. The men also play The Citadel and an opponent to be announced, while the women play Georgia Southern on the trip.
The uniqueness of men’s and women’s teams traveling together is something coach Saniuk sees as a positive and something that is special about college tennis compared to other sports.
“They will be watching each others matches, going out to dinner together, it will be a great overall program experience versus just an individual team experience, which is cool, most sports don’t get to say that,” Saniuk said. “It’s a really cool and unique experience for the program.”
Next up for the women is a home match against Arkansas-Little Rock at noon on Feb. 20.
The men’s team returns to the court on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. when they take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux in Omaha.