New Linfield men’s tennis coach Ben Belletto is a like a potter sitting down to his wheel with an unshaped ball of clay sitting before him. Given ample time and the guiding hands of a sculptor, the Wildcats can become that worthy showpiece that everyone wants on their mantle.
A highly successful coach at Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer in Southern California, Belletto fields a young team with just one senior and two juniors. As he works to polish each player’s tennis skills, his immediate goal is to focus on fitness and conditioning. According to Belletto, when recovery comes quickly, the player’s confidence remains high and his mind is clear.
Belletto’s big-picture plan is simple: “Our goal here is to establish a championship culture. We want to improve the quality of play, the practices and the intensity. We want to a develop a strong commitment to learning and appreciating each experience.”
Ben McNair, Alec Wisthoff, Tim Hawkins comprise the short list of upperclassmen with substantial collegiate experience. Sophomores Liam Spearnak and Grant Barrow also return. Newcomers Jacob Mangan, Charlie Farrenkopf, Eric Rutherford, Carter Pentz and Trent Prussing all show promise.
Belletto said the Wildcats will “approach every match the same way. We won’t view any teams as beatable or unbeatable, but rather focus on the process.”
McNair likely will anchor the No. 1 singles and doubles slots. From there, the lineup remains a work in progress. Wisthoff and Hawkins offer a measure of collegiate experience. Farrenkopf and Rutherford have high ceilings, according to the coach, but will take time to develop fully. Pentz and Prussing are bright up-and-comers.
Defending champion Whitman is again expected to rule the roost in the Northwest Conference this spring, yet Belletto believes Pacific and George Fox are closing the gap. Whitworth, Lewis & Clark and Pacific Lutheran are also in position to contend.
After finishing eighth among nine NWC teams last season, Linfield has more esoteric goals for Belletto’s maiden season. “At the end of the year, I want a team full of guys who know exactly what they need to work on heading into the offseason and can’t wait to get started again.”