Freshmen lead men’s tennis team at ITA tournament

The UW-Eau Claire men’s tennis team opened their 2013-2014 season this past weekend at the Intercollegiate Tennis AssociationRegional Championships and Midwest Open, hosted by Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.).

The Blugolds have a young team this year as nine of the 14 players on the roster are freshmen. Head coach Tom Gillman, who is in his 13th year at the helm, said he embraces the energy and youth the youngsters have brought to the team.

“The older players and I welcome the change,” Gillman said. “It is a new beginning, and we are very hopeful for what they can do.”

The doubles duo of Austin Auleta, a graduate of Eau Claire Memorial, and Josh Chuba of Elk River, Minn., led the Blugolds as they advanced to the semi-final round of the Midwest Open. Gillman said he paired Josh and Austin together because they complement each other’s games very well.

“Austin has great footwork and a great feel for the game,” Gillman said. “Josh is a very good power player. He can hit the ball real well.”

Gillman said the duo did a great job, and they could have won the competition. Chuba said he and his partner played well, although it was their first college tennis competition. Chuba said though he was a bit nervous, he didn’t let that stop him.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, so we just went out there and played tennis,” Chuba said.

“I’ve never played in that big of tournament and to play as well as I did in my first one was a good feeling,” Chuba said.

The strong play by freshmen continued as the Blugolds were led in singles play byConrad Felten.

Felten advanced to the fourth round, which was one round away from the quarterfinals. He finished the weekend with a record of 3-1.

“It was important for our players to watch someone like Conrad play,” Gillman said. “He is an intelligent player and he plays very hard.”

Felten said he took his coach’s pregame message of going out and having fun to heart.  Like his two freshman teammates, Felten said he didn’t really know what to expect either, and after the matches were played he noticed distinct differences between high school and college tennis.

“In high school, just keeping the ball in play gives you a good shot to win,” Felten said. “In college I have to be more patient, and I have to have a strategy for every point.”

Felten said winning three matches and going to a third set tie-break was a confidence booster for him. Gillman said the matches this weekend were a good test for his team, and he was happy with how they played.

The Blugolds will not be in action again until Feb. 1.