Author: Lauren Taylor
It’s a bit of a misnomer to call Occidental men’s tennis coach Brian Newhall “new.” The winningest coach in program history, Newhall gave up coaching the tennis team in 1994 to focus more on his other passion, coaching Occidental’s men’s basketball team.
But he could not ignore an urge to return to the tennis court this fall when athletic director Jaime Hoffman asked him to return to his old job. Upon his return, the team was in somewhat of a funk. Its last winning season was an 11-9 campaign in 2008, and they then went 2-7 in SCIAC play to finish sixth last season. After a strong preseason this fall, however, the Tigers (10-3) are putting the league on notice that Occidental is once again a program on the move, as Newhall put it.
“This is a new Occidental men’s tennis program,” he said. “We have a new intensity; a new focus; new goals. We are improved and hungry. Our short term goal is to compete for every point, game, set. The long term goal is to become the sixth SCIAC team ranked nationally.”
Without a dominant No. 1 player, the Tigers have relied heavily on a deep team this season to keep their opposition off balance in the middle of the lineup. Stephen Perkins (junior) and Spencer Choy (junior) are a combined 19-1 from the No. 4 and No. 5 slots, and Jeremy Shapiro (sophomore) is 6-4 from the No. 2 position.
“We’ve just talked about having fun out there and not worrying about wins and losses,” Choy said. “We’ve been looking forward to the challenge and working hard instead of focusing on the outcomes.” Perkins added that the coaching change has also had an impact on the team’s outlook and performance so far this season. “Practices have been really good,” he said. “We’ve come together as a team. Newhall has us working harder than we ever have before. He has established a winning mentality.”
The SCIAC is considered one of the elite men’s tennis conferences in the country, with four teams inside the top-20 in the national rankings (No. 9 Cal Lutheran, No. 13 Pomona-Pitzer, No. 15 University of Redlands and No. 18 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps), but Occidental has been impressive thus far in non-conference play.
The Tigers have won seven of their last eight matches, including victories over Haverford, Wabash, Vassar and St. John’s (Minn.) during a stretch of seven matches in seven days.
Despite the difficult schedule, Occidental cracked the national rankings earlier this year, making a brief appearance at No. 30 after opening the season with three straight wins.
A string of victories over Salisbury, the University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran has Occidental once again creeping toward the edge of the Top-25 as they begin the SCIAC portion of their season. Team captain Ben Herrington-Gilmore (senior) claims that the key to winning in league play is simply to keep doing what the team has already been doing this year. “We’ve been showing up ready to compete, working hard in practice and preparing ourselves well,” the team’s lone senior said. “There’s also a different mentality this year-last year we’d go in sort of expecting to lose against good teams. Not having that expectation this year will be key.”
The team could once again find itself in the polls next week if it can reel off some early victories against SCIAC opponents. The Tigers hit the road to take on the Bulldogs of Redlands this Friday at 2 p.m.
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