Man playing tennis.Lucas Gebhart

Sports Editor

The Idaho State men’s tennis team opened its 2017 season last weekend in Chubbuck at Capell Park byway of a four-day tournament that featured five new faces wearing the orange and black. 

Keegan Sullivan, William Edin and Francis Filipovich all return as upperclassmen, while transfers Peter Trhac, David Felix, Adam Hornby and freshmen Austin Gwilliam and Ryan Boddington join the squad for the first time this season.

“They will have a really big impact in our lineup,” Filipovich said.

Trhac, a transfer from Palomar Community College, was named the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2016, going 18-2 in singles. Felix, a transfer from Mesa Community College, was an All-Conference player last season and was named Second-Team NJCAA All-American his freshman season while Adam Hornby, a senior transfer from Dalton State, ranked 42nd nationally in the NAIA in singles play and left last month to play in the Davis Cup, a tournament hosted by the International Tennis Federation and is known to be a premier international team event in men’s tennis.

“They have very big games and they came here to compete,” said head coach Mark Rodel on the transfers. “I am very excited for them. They have helped raise the level and they come in with the level of maturity that we needed to balance out the team.”

Now in his third season as head coach, Rodel has been able to implement his system and says his players have fully bought into his program.

“Last year, we created the culture, the belief and the buy-in,” he said. “It took literally a year to have the guys buy in and embrace what we are doing and the style we are trying to play. What I have noticed with this group is there is little resistance when I ask of something,”

The fall season is composed of three preseason tournaments, which serve as a way for players to gain experience and build their games to prepare for the spring season, which starts in January. The Bengals have two more preseason tournaments left before taking a two-and-a-half month break prior to the spring season where the matches count towards the team record.

“I love the fall because despite a potential loss, we may have actually won,” Rodel said “Winning in terms of development. Winning in terms of are you improving? What do you need to do now?”

The final tournament, the Region VII Championships held in Provo, serve as an opportunity for the players to play against nationally recognized opponents if they advance far enough into the tournament. If an Idaho State player advanced to the finals of the Region VII tournament, that player automatically qualifies for the National Indoor Championships.

“I don’t know that that is likely. But there is an incentive,” Rodel said.

The other aspect about the fall is different levels of competition. With the way tournaments are setup, some players who normally a four or a five can sometimes play against another school’s top player and can serve as a wake-up call.

“Last fall, I played horrendous tennis,” Sullivan said. “I had to make a huge jump in the spring. The fall is about everybody having a good attitude and being positive on the court and then we will see in the spring.”

Following the fall season last year, Sullivan and Rodel had a meeting as one of Rodel’s upperclassmen and now veteran players, had fallen to the eight spot on the team. Following the meeting, Sullivan began to play more disciplined and Sullivan jumped from eight to six in singles play by the time the spring season rolled around.

“He jumped at least that in doubles,” Rodel said on Sullivan’s improvement. “That speaks volumes to what he did.”

Rodel plans to use the preseason to build and devolve his team into a big name Big Sky team. Last season, the team finished with a 7-4 conference record and punched its first ticket to the Big Sky tournament since 2013.

The coach said that the team currently has individual goals, but has yet to set team goals which they plan to set to the conclusion of the fall season.

“I would love to sit here and tell you we are going to win a Big Sky,” Rodel said. “It is a process. I would tell you that my goal is to take a step forward from last year and the fall define what that means. I don’t know what that means right now, but we will improve.”

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