The second year of coach Ben Belletto’s rebuild of the Linfield men’s tennis program saw the Wildcats take important steps forward.
As he continued establishing a championship culture, Belletto observed progress in individual skill development and team camaraderie. The changes may have been subtle, but were necessary in order for Linfield to realize its long-range goals of a conference championship and national championship-meet invitation.
“Not only is a championship culture about having consistently intense and focused practices, but it’s also about the little decisions that lead to big progress,” said Belletto, whose team had two seniors on the roster. “Learning how to communicate and support each other at the championship level is as big a challenge as we will face. Once we embrace that, the work becomes easier and more enjoyable.”
Linfield went 6-13 in dual matches and the Wildcats were 5-7 within the Northwest Conference. The season included a season-sweep of Pacific Lutheran and Willamette and an exiting 5-4 decision over out-of-conference foe Colorado College.
According to Belletto, Linfield made “huge leaps” in its doubles play and statistics back up his assertion. As a team, Linfield climbed from eight doubles wins the previous season to 23. The team also tripled the number of NWC doubles victories from six in 2016 to 18 this year.
As Linfield’s most experienced player, senior Tyler Linscott was 6-8 in singles and 8-8 in doubles on his way to earning first team all-NWC honors. Linscott paired with Ben McNair to form a quality doubles tandem in the No. 1 slot.
Sophomores Nathan Saragoza and Jacob Mangan (7 singles wins each), and freshman Jose Luis Rojas (6 singles wins) gained valuable experience. John Lutaaya showed off his raw potential during his first collegiate season.
“Luis really developed into a player and John started to understand doubles as the year went on. Nathan improved a ton in both singles and doubles,” said Belletto. “Jake is a competitor who continues to rise to any occasion. Tyler and Ben grew into a great doubles team.”
Veterans Charlie Farrenkopf, Eric Rutherford and Trent Prussing were also vital to the Wildcats’ collective improvement, Belletto said.
“Charlie had a few things really click in terms of competing. Eric has continued to improve at a rapid rate through hard work and determination and using every opportunity. Trent didn’t have a great season in terms of winning matches, but he is one of the most mature tennis minds I’ve ever coached, and he took the lessons of the year the way one needs to in order to be successful.”
Heading to the offseason, Belletto reminded his team there is work to be done in order for the Wildcats to continue their ascent.
“The summer is such a valuable time to develop and have breakthroughs,” said the coach. “We need to play matches and tournaments. Now is the time to grow.”