The University of Dubuque hosted the Prairie Fire and the Edgewood Eagles this weekend, and Knox did not treat their hosts well: the Prairie Fire knocked off the Eagles 9-0 and the Spartans 5-4.
Sophomore Karl Ruzgas got the ball rolling against Edgewood, winning his match 6-0, 3-6 and 10-5 at the #1 singles position.
The team did not slow down after Ruzgas’ victory, with sophomores Jonathan Ng and Walter Palmer, senior David Ham and freshman Dustin Loch winning their singles matches in two sets, while freshman Pragyaditya Mukerjee won by default. The doubles matches were no more difficult, as Ruzgas and Palmer defeated Edgewood’s #1 doubles team 8-4 and Ham and Ng dominated 8-1 in #2 doubles play, while Loch and Mukerjee won by default.
The Spartans proved a much tougher opponent, as Ruzgas was taken down in a 4-6, 3-6 loss. Loch and Mukerjee were each dealt a loss at their #5 and #6 matches in two sets as well. Ng, Palmer and Ham, however, were all able to improve to 2-0 in singles play, defeating their respective opponents. Knox again dominated doubles play, as both the duo of Ruzgas and Palmer and Loch and Mukerjee won their matches, while Ng and Ham were taken down in theirs.
For their efforts, the Prairie Fire emerged with a perfect 2-0 record on the season. Ruzgas was extremely proud of the team, saying “everyone played with ferocity, refusing to give up … each of us was physically fit and showed good technique. It’s really fantastic to watch a team come together like that.”
At this time last year, the men’s tennis team had just returned from the University of Dubuque. Last year, however, they returned with only a 1-1 record, a difference Ruzgas insists is incredibly important. The Prairie Fire are a much different team due to new Head Coach Rob Rye.
“He’s just focused a lot on the basics, on the core concepts of tennis,” Ruzgas said. “He’s making sure we’re fit, that we aren’t making silly mistakes, which we made a lot of last year. He’s really just making sure we’re in the correct mindset for tennis.”
If they can stick with the mindset they currently have and continue to progress at the rate they are right now, the sky’s the limit for Knox this year. While they lost two important seniors, every remaining member of the Prairie Fire has stepped up their game, and the team retains the depth in its roster due to the addition of two freshmen that can help the team immediately.
Ruzgas says Ng has made marked improvement in his singles game to help fill the shoes of the graduating seniors, and Palmer, whose doubles game was already impressive as a freshman, has improved even more. With all that in mind, Ruzgas and the team have set their expectations high: they refuse to accept anything less than a third place finish in the conference standings, which would require a marked improvement from their 1-3 finish in the MWC last year.
The next opportunity for Knox to extend their exemplary play is this Saturday in Pella, Iowa, against Morningside College at noon, and then at home against Central College at 3 p.m.