Tennis teams on the loose; Women's team won 4 of 5
Success brings welcomed attention to tennis program
Sports Information Department BC
March 26, 2012
Bluefield College Athletics
Sports Information Department
BLUEFIELD, Va. — Tennis has been a part of Bluefield College for most of the last nine decades. It returned in 2009, having been dormant for the previous nine years.
After three seasons with one team win between two programs, the Rams have gotten on the winning track, and just in time.
“It is really good,” Bluefield junior Leslie Williams said. “It is just like we kind of got used to losing for a while there and this year we have actually improved a lot and here comes the wins.”
Here comes the Mid-South Conference.
“I am looking forward to a couple of more wins this year hopefully,” Bluefield junior Erika Cregger said. “Next year is going to be interesting.”
Bluefield College will depart the Appalachian Athletic Conference after this season and will join the Mid-South, one of the top NAIA leagues in the nation.
“The big challenge for them right now is switching conferences,” Bluefield College tennis coach and noted local professional Mark Sarver said. “Going into the Mid-South, I was looking at the Division I rankings. On the men’s side there are five schools in the Mid-South that are ranked either in or getting votes outside of the top 25 in the country.
“On the women’s side there are two inside the top 25 and three in receiving votes.”
Tennis was among the first sports offered at Bluefield College in the 1920s, which also included, among others, football, wrestling, track and even boxing.
The program had its share of success. In 1994, Randy Belt — the older brother of successful Bluefield State coach Louie Belt — won the Tennessee-Virginia Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors, and the Rams were TVAC runner-ups in ‘97. A tennis complex was even constructed on campus in ‘96.
All seemed good, but the program was shut down in 2000. Tennis was one of several sports to have been resurrected at the school in recent years, having come back in ‘09 under current women’s basketball assistant Jessica Brokaw.
She gave up those duties and Sarver, who has built a reputation as one of the region’s top teaching professionals, took over the program in August.
Sarver went to Bluefield College in 1973 on a tennis and basketball scholarship.
“It has taken a long time for me to get my feet on the ground around here,” said Sarver, a veteran high school coach of 28 years, whose son, Andy, is his assistant. His daughter, Ashleigh Beasley, is the coach at Christiansburg High School, and Grace Sarver, a two-time Group A state champion in singles and doubles, is now back for her senior season with the Bland County Bears. “Obviously I know tennis, teaching tennis and playing it...
“This is a developmental year, but they have got a lot better and along the way they have improved and won some.”
The men’s team didn’t win a match for three seasons, and the women won one, which was last year against Berea. Neither team won in their first two years back in existence.
“I won a few matches in singles, but we didn’t win any as a whole,” said Julie Austin, the lone senior on the Bluefield women’s team. “It can be a little discouraging.”
Yet, that lack of success didn’t scare off players like Caitlin Allen, a sophomore, who played for the Bluefield High School tennis team, and is now a doubles partner with Austin.
“It didn’t really discourage me, I knew we were getting a new coach,” Allen said. “I knew that Mark was a phenomenal tennis coach and player and I was just excited to see where the team was going to go and improve.”
Improve they have. The women’s program was going for a fifth straight team win on Saturday at Columbia College in South Carolina, while the men defeated Ferrum for their first win a couple of weeks ago.
The six-players women’s squad includes Austin, Williams and Cregger, along with Allen and fellow sophomores Kalyn Dolan and Casey Germain.
“They have gotten a whole lot better, especially since the fall,” Sarver said. “Individually they have and as a team they have gotten a whole lot better and they will continue to get a lot better and they have worked real hard at it. The nice thing is they are a great group of girls to be around more than anything else.”
No one has enjoyed smiling after a match more than the Rams.
“We have definitely improved a lot this year, Mark has been able to coach us a lot and that helps tremendously,” said Williams, who is second seed in singles and first in doubles with Germain. “Individually and just as a team we have really improved a lot.”
Leading the men’s team is junior Jordan Owens, who is joined by seniors Tyler Eastep (Bland County) and Borgia M’Bala, junior Matthew Moore, sophomores James Gunn — a import from the soccer team — and J.D. Taylor, and freshman Chaz Stonestreet from Bluefield High School.
Bluefield won its first men’s match against Ferrum on March 11.
“It is the same thing with the guys,” Sarver said. “We have played a lot of our matches with only five guys and have lost a couple of them 5-4 so it has been real competitive with that.”
Owens is a transfer from Chowan University, while Allen played three years for the Beavers and went to King College. She transferred back to Bluefield College, ready to return to the court.
“I missed it, I loved playing in high school and I knew Julie ahead of time and I knew she played tennis and I just wanted to try it out,” Allen said. “I was really nervous at first because I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t know if I was going to be able to fit in well enough ability-wise.
“I didn’t know too much about their record or anything, but it worked out well.”
Very well. The Rams had wins this season over Ferrum, Emory & Henry, Greensboro College and McDaniel College before heading to Columbia.
Call that a pleasant surprise.
“Honestly no, I didn’t expect that at all, I am really excited about it and I can’t wait to see what my other two years hold,” Allen said. “Hopefully I will move up in seed and I hope to just improve, get a harder serve and more precision with my hitting and just improve.”
Improving is what Sarver knows must happen for the Rams to succeed. He knows the task at hand. His current players — men and women — need the help.
“The challenge for me to go out and find them help,,,,” Sarver said.
Next year awaits. This year is here now. That is the focus right now.
“We are definitely looking forward,” Williams said. “We just have to train really hard and practice and get better because it is definitely going to be some really good competition.
“This year we are just taking it one match at a time. We don’t want to look too far ahead, we are trying to win as many as we can.”
How about all of them.
“We want to win the rest of our matches,” Allen said, “go to the tournament and just blow everybody away and surprise everybody.”
Contribution/Thanks by: Brian Woodson, Bluefield Daily Telegraph