The 2005 Baldwin Wallace University Menís Tennis Team Benefits From Five Strong Senior Leaders
By: Matthew Florjancic
BEREA, OHIO ó A dynasty can be defined as a line of succession in a ruling family. It can also be a group or team that has had success in its field of endeavor for a considerable amount of time. Also, during the past four years, the Baldwin Wallace University menís tennis team has been a dynasty. The success experienced by the program could be attributed to Head Coach Brian Rector and the five seniors on his roster.
Seniors Mike Wagner (Avon Lake), Derek Sloan (Bellevue), Adam Slabodnick (Ashland/ Senior), Ward Crane (Hudson/ Western Reserve Academy) and Matt Seitz (Olmsted Falls) have compiled outstanding records in their singles and doubles careers. However, as a team, their numbers are just as impressive.
Together these strong student-athletes have helped the Yellow Jacket tennis program become one of the best in the Ohio Athletic Conference and in the Central Region of Division III according to ITA (Intercollegiate Tennis Association).
BW, the defending 2004 OAC regular season and OAC Tournament champion, enters its final OAC regular season match tomorrow (Saturday, April 23, 2005) at Wilmington College with a 19-2 overall and perfect 8-0 OAC mark. When BW beat OAC arch-rival Ohio Northern University, 4-1, in Ada on Wednesday (April 20), the Yellow Jackets clinched their second straight OAC regular season title, won for the 41st time in their last 43 overall dual matches, won their 20th straight OAC match dating back to the OAC Championship match in 2003 and won for the 18th straight time at home. In addition, BW won its first 12 matches this season and combined with last yearís perfect 22-0 record established an OAC-record 34-match winning streak.
"Our seniors have been a key to our success this season and for the last four years," said veteran 16-year Yellow Jacket Head Coach Brian Rector, who is the winningest menís tennis coach in school history with 261 wins. "What these five have helped us accomplish as a team is outstanding. What they have accomplished individually is unbelievable."
Overall, the quintet have won a combined 456 individual matches at the singles and doubles levels and have a 456-134 record with a .773 winning percentage. They are a combined 250-60 mark in singles action for an .806 winning percentage and a 206-74 doubles record with a .736 winning percentage.
Since these five young men entered the program, BW has compiled an astounding list of accomplishments.
As freshmen, BW was 18-6 overall and 6-3 in the OAC and placed third at the OAC Tournament. It was a year of growth and maturity.
"All five saw action as freshmen and four of them started quite a bit," said Rector. "At first, it was difficult to tell which one was the best player. So, I played all of them at No.1 singles at one time or another. Over time, and through challenge matches, we developed a pecking order and a lineup that everyone began to feel comfortable with and had adjusted to."
As sophomores, the team finished 20-4 overall and was 7-1 in the OAC. The 20 wins set a single-season school-record for victories. Unfortunately, BW lost in the OAC Tournament championship match on a tie-breaker on the final point to ONU. That loss fueled the fire for the past two years.
"I think that loss made each player in our program at that time, including the current seniors, re-dedicate themselves to winning the OAC title in 2004," said Rector. "You could see a real attitude change. That loss was in the back of everyoneís mid all the way until we played ONU in our dual match last season and it carried over to the OAC Tournament."
Wagner thinks the loss in the championship as sophomores helped the team set goals for their junior year.
"It was pretty disappointing losing sophomore year," said Wagner, who has a chance to set a BW career victory mark with a sigles win at Wilmington. "It helped motivate us for our junior year."
As juniors in 2004, BW posted a perfect 22-0 record, including a 9-0 mark in OAC play and an OAC regular season title. It was the first time in the 101-year history of the Ohio Athletic Conference that a tennis team (menís or womenís) finished the season with an unblemished mark. Of its 22 wins, 17 were by shutout which set another school-record. Then the Yellow Jackets got a second chance to claim the OAC Tournament title and they took full advantage of the situation.
At the 2004 OAC Tournament at ONU, BW was set to make its statement that been a year in the waiting. It defeated each of its three opponents in convincing fashion. In the first round, BW beat the Student Princes of Heidelberg by a 4-0 count. Then, in the semifinals, they defeated the Capital Crusaders, 5-0. In the finals, BW returned the favor to ONU. Just like the year before, the host team of the tournament lost in the championship match as BW defeated the Polar Bears, 4-0. It was only the second time in school history that the menís tennis team won the OAC Tournament (also in 1993).
Rector, who loves to deflect all of his teamís success to his players, believes that the seniors have been successful because of their bond off the court.
"These five guys are in the same fraternity [the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity]," said Rector, who was a four-year starter, an Academic All-American, and at one time BWís all-time winningest player. "They have been growing together since freshmen on and off the court."
Individually, BW has seen some amazing players come through its doors. However, four of the five seniors are among the Top 15 in wins in school history. Wagner is tied for the school-record for career wins with 76, Crane is tied for sixth place with 61 victories, Sloan is 14th with 48 and Slabodnick is tied with Coach Rector for 15th with 46 victories each.
During his four-year career, Wagner has a 76-10 career singles mark for an .884 winning percentage and has helped win 53 of 79 career doubles matches for a .671 winning percentage. His 76 wins tie him weith Kevin Peacock (76-6 from 1995-98) and Chris Johnson (76-11-1 from 1997-2000). He is a three-time All-OAC player and is currently ranked 17th in the Central Region by ITA. Last year, Wagner earned the Mark Lenssen OAC Menís Tennis Player of the Year Award.
"Mike has had an amazing career," said Rector. "We knew that he was a good player when we recruited him and he has been that and much more. You know with Mike at No.1 singles and playing No.1 doubles that yopu have a stud."
Crane also has had a stellar career at BW.
Crane, also a three-time All-OAC player and currently a candidate for ESPN THE MAGAZINE Academic All-America accolades, has a 61-17 career singles mark for a .782 winning percentage and has helped to compile a 54-18 doubles late, including an 18-4 mark this year with Wagner at No.1 doubles. He is serving as a team captain for the third straight year, and in addition to his achievements on the court, Crane has made an even bigger impression in the classroom.
Crane is a member of the Deanís List, the Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and was the recipient of the 2004 Amling Investment Award.
"Ward is a truly great young man who is definitely a leader both on and off the court," said Rector. "He has a high grade point average, has his priorities always in the right places and is a fabulous team leader.
"Ward also is a consumate team player," said Rector. "His first two years he played first singles. When Mike moved into that spot, Ward moved to No.2 and kept pushing himself and his teammates to get better. This year, we added James (Daly) into the No.2 spot and Ward moved to No.3. His attitude and work ethic never changed. As a player, Ward is a coachís dream."
Crane thinks the team knows how to handle tough situations because they have been together for four years.
"All of the seniors know each otherís game well," said Crane. "We usually win the doubles point now, whereas we used to lose it a lot when we were freshman and sophomores. Each of us iknow what we have to do to be successful and we go out and do it.
"Two years ago, I would say that pressure got to us every now and then," continued Crane. "But we have learned how to deal with both pressure and adversity, and that has been a key to us as a team. Not only do we know how to win, we have the desire and will to go out and produce a win."
Slabodnick, just like Crane, has offered a lot to the program in his four-year career.
He enters the Wilmington match with 46 career wins which makes Rector laugh.
"Yeah, another one of the seniors is passing me by," says Rector. "First it was Mike, then it was Ward, then Derek, and now its Adam. And, I know, as good a player as Matt Seitz is that if we could have gotten him more matches, heíd of done it too. I am so proud of each one of the five seniors. And, they have a great deal to be proud about."
As a freshman, Slabodnick earned honorable mention All-OAC honors and has a 46-13 career singles record for a .780 winning percentage and is BWís all-time winningest doubles player with 63 victories and an outstanding 63-13 record and .829 winning percentage His 23 doubles wins this year, including a school-record 22-1 mark with Daly at No.2, are school singfle-season records. Slabodnick is an athlete that has earned a reputation for being a quiet leader and a consistent doubles player.
"Adam just wins, it is as simple as that fact," said Rector. "No matter what position we ask Adam to play, he goes out and gives great effort."
Slabodnick feels the success of the team is related to the camaraderie of the members of the squad.
"We all get along so well," Slabodnick said. "We always want to go out, hit, and get better. It all comes down to work ethic and the desire to improve. We all have that desire, and it is a key to our success as a team and as individuals."
Sloan also has been a mainstay in the program. He stands 14th on the win list with 48 career singles victories and a 48-20 career record. He also has 28 doubles wins and his career combination record is 76-35 for a .685 winning percentage.
"Derek possesses solid ability and skill and has some success during his four years," said Rector. "Like Adam, wherever we have asked Derek to play, he has gone out and done the job. Even when we have asked him to play at No.1 singles, heís won, and he usually our fifth or sixth singles player. That should give you an idea of the kind of talent on this team and among our senior class. On many teams, both Adam and Derek, would be among the top players."
Sloan believes his class is successful because they came into BW with skill and desire.
"We came in as pretty stellar players from high school," Sloan said. "We came in with a lot of talent and we have been able to go out and win the matches when we needed to."
Sloan is glad he had a chance to play alongside some of the best players in school history.
"Itís fun playing with the same four guys because you get close to them," Sloan added. "We all know each other very well. It makes practice fun, it makes road trips fun and when you win, it is even more fun."
Dspite not getting as many varsity match opportunities as his classmates, senior Matt Seitz has put together an unblemished college singles record.
Seitz, a business administration major, has a career singles record of 19-0, including a perfect 10-0 slate as a sophomore. He also is 8-2 in doubles action. His career winning percentage for combined singles and doubles matches is .931.
"What goes out and the does the job each and every time he is called upon," said Rector. "He is another coachís dream player. Matt is a great student and an excellent tennis player. Most importantly, Matt is a great person and team member. Our team could not have been as successful without the contribution we have gotten from Matt Seitz both on the court and at practice."
Seitz not only gets the job done on the court, but in the classroom as well.
Seitz is a member of the Deanís List, of the Alpha Lambda Honor Society, and the Delta Mu Delta Honor Society. As a junior, he received the Walter W. Mueller Scholarship and was an At-Large Academic All-OAC honorable mention choice.
With one regular season match left and the 2005 OAC Tournament drawing near, the leadership and desire this group of seniors displayed throughout their careers, Coach Rector thinks the team can make a good run at repeating as OAC champions and possibly getting a national tournament berth.
"Building those friendships makes it easier as we set the goals for the team," said Rector. "We were looking down the road and trying to meet our goals. One was to win the regular season title, and we have accomplished that goal. Another is to repeat as OAC Tournament champions. And, the final one is getting a first-ever NCAA Division III berth to the National Tournament."
The NCAA Division III National Selection Committee will announce the At-Large berths to the National Tournament on May 1. Stay tuned.