AU has officially relaunched their men’s and women’s tennis programs after discontinuing them following the 2016-17 school year. Director of Tennis Bryant Beard will be coaching both programs, starting with the women’s team in the fall.
The tennis program was discontinued as part of the university’s cuts during the 2017-18 school year. However, the school felt comfortable about bringing the programs back under the leadership of Coach Beard.
Despite having a year without the sport, AU will be returning several players from the previous team, including Abby Kirkman, a senior from Martinsville, Ind.
“It was terrible at first,” said Kirkman. “No one really expected the program to be taken away.”
Kirkman finished her sophomore season by receiving All-Conference recognition for her performance in singles and doubles.
Beard joined the program a few years back, after growing up and playing tennis in the area.
“I came on as the men’s coach in 2015 and was given the opportunity to coach the women’s team in January of this year,” said Beard.
The team finished their last season with a 5-5 regular season team record. They advanced to the HCAC Championships but came up short against Manchester.
Not only does the return of the program suggest good news for the university, it also gives the team a chance to compete in the HCAC at a high level.
“The main goal is to finish top three in the conference,” said Beard. “Honestly I think that we can finish top two with how deep our team is.”
The Ravens will be returning several players from the previous team, as well as adding multiple underclassmen who are new to the program.
The main focus of their preseason activities was to get the new players acquainted with the culture the team hopes to establish. Sophomore and first year player Ruth Knies joined the team after not expecting to play at the college level.
“I played tennis in high school but Anderson didn’t have a team my freshman year, so obviously I couldn’t play,” said Knies. “When I heard they were bringing the team back this year I decided to play.”
Beard said that he was excited to have so many new players joining the program this season.
“We’re trying to set a new culture. There is an old culture and a new culture. And the freshmen are really helping with that, because I recruited them under this new culture,” said Beard.
The veteran players are also adding to the team by mentoring the younger players and familiarizing them with college play.
“We’re just trying to get the freshmen accustomed to playing in college, and also time management,” said Kirkman. “It’s definitely a challenge getting used the new coaching style, building a team for years to come and seeing where we’ll place in conference since we’ve all had a year off.”
The new team isn’t just interested in building a successful program for this year, but in creating a winning culture for years to come that is full of good students.
The incoming freshman class owns a collective 3.78 grade point average.
“We have some of the highest academic achieving students on campus, and the same goes for the girls we are bringing in,” said Beard.
“A lot of the previous coaches were limited by being part-time. Being here full-time allows me to grow what I want,” said Beard. “I want to keep the freshmen I have continuing to grow, but I want to bring in freshmen who are going to push them or jump over them.”
Beard works in the admissions office, which allows him to be on campus more than coaches in the past.
“Some of the challenges were building a program, building my team,” said Beard. “I knew that I needed to be on campus to recruit and to be part of the community, so an opportunity to join admissions came up my second year with the men’s team.”
The team will kick off their season against Taylor University on Aug. 31 and will continue to play through the middle of October.