As they reached the end of their regular season, confidence couldn’t have been much higher for the North Central Men’s Tennis team. A final 9-0 sweep over Carroll was their 14th consecutive victory to close out a 21-2 campaign. Winning a first conference title for over 60 years and a first ever trip to the NCAA Division III Championships both felt within grasp.
“I think our confidence level is probably at its peak right now,” said senior Morgan Red. “We’re just having fun out here on court, just doing our thing, and hopefully just keeping it going into the future with conference and hopefully nationals as well.”
“Last year we came up short by like one point so it was really tough, it was a close match and the closest we’ve ever been to [winning] the conference,” said junior captain Guillermo Gonzalez Fernandez of last year’s CCIW championship defeat. “So the conference title is our main goal right now. We believe we’re going to achieve it…and if we get the conference and go to nationals, just have fun out there.”
‘That’s one of the main reasons I came to North Central was seeing how Ryan Jump was building the program,” senior Andy Hinch said of his decision to come to North Central in the first place. “He’s done such a good job with where he started and being a younger coach it’s been awesome. And he promised me my freshman year a conference championship so this is my last year to do it and the most talented team I’ve ever been a part of and I think we have a really good shot this year. It would be the icing on the cake for sure.”
“You know, when Andy came and visited he was looking at a bunch of other conference schools,” said head coach Ryan Jump. “He was like ’I really want to play in and compete for conference championships’ and I said ‘listen man, this is gonna be the place for you if that’s what you’re looking for.’ And we got better and better every single year and I think nothing would mean more to them than if we can write this out the way it’s supposed to.”
And that they did, defeating Carroll, Augustana and finally Carthage to claim the CCIW crown with a 5-3 win over the Firebirds including wins for Red, CCIW Player of the Year Ramon Vilarroig and Javier Suarez in singles, and teams of Hinch and Colten Way and Red and Suarez in doubles. In their first ever NCAA match, they beat the University of Wisconsin-Superior 5-0 before falling to sixteenth-ranked Gustavus Adolphus College in the second round. In addition to Vilarroig, Suarez was also named to the All CCIW 1st Team and Gonzalez to the 2nd Team, while Jump won his second consecutive CCIW coach of the year award. This season brought with it plenty of success, but it’s given the Cardinals more than that.
“Player-run teams typically run smoother than coach-run teams,” Jump said. “And they’ve done exactly that. They’ll go and get the extra reps they need, they’ll go do the extra work that they’re supposed to do, and in matches they kind of operate and run it on their own and we just facilitate, which makes it really easy for us. Good leadership helps with that and our seniors and [Guillermo] as one of our captains do a really good job with that so when it’s run by the team it makes life a lot easier for all of us so it’s been fun.”
“Work and be humble,” Gonzalez Fernandez said of the team’s mindset. “We’ve never tried to be too much, we just try to go out there, play our best and fight for each point. I think that’s how we keep the success.”
“It’s just contagious,” said Hinch. “It starts up top with being a leader and learning that you have to play wherever you’re told to play and just knowing that role. It’s all about working together no matter who you’re with.”
“I think the best thing I give to the team is leadership,” said Red regarding his legacy. “For myself personally, it gave me just good friends and that’s all that I could have asked for from the team.”
That friendship Red mentions is what the team sees as their foundation: how they’ve built themselves up to this most successful point in program history, and how they’ll continue to rise even higher in the future.
“I think on and off the court that we kind of hang out and try to make sure we spend time with each other,” he added. “And on the court we cheer for each other, it always just keeps our emotions up and whatnot.”
“It’s been fun and I think the best part is that they enjoy coming out and spending time with each other and seeing each other succeed, and at the end of the day that’s really all you can ask for,” said Jump. “So yeah it’s been a blast.”