The respite, however short it was, is over for the Flagler College tennis programs. Classes are back in session and the streaking Saints will have a test of their own this weekend with a trio of road matches.
When the next Oracle/Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings are released on Wednesday, the women’s and men’s team will almost assuredly be ranked. The Saints women (12-1, 5-0) are currently 12th and sport a 10-match winning streak. Thomas Hipp’s men’s team (11-2, 3-0) was ranked 31st in the most recent poll and have also won 10 straight.
Both squads will be on the road this weekend for a trio of Peach Belt Conference contests. Friday, the Saints will face Columbus State, make the 60-mile trek to face Georgia Southwestern on Saturday and conclude its Peach State slate with a Sunday contest against Georgia College.
“This weekend is going to be very important because it’s going to be three Peach Belt Conference opponents,” Hipp said. “Hopefully, we can win two out of those three. That would be great.”
Hipp was the head coach of both the women’s and men’s program for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. In July 2016, Hipp’s assistant for both teams, Rodrigo Puebla, was named the head coach of the women’s program. The move meant both men have had more time to devote to their respective programs as well as tailor their coaching and messages.
“For us, it’s like our rival,” said Puebla, a Columbus State graduate, about a Cougars program that knocked the Saints out of the 2016 NCAA tournament. “We have been looking forward to this match as soon as the schedule came out.”
The Saints’ Nos. 2, 3 and 5 singles players, Mary Jo Nanti, Kelly Burge and sophomore Felicitas Runkel have won all five of their conference singles matches this spring.
Columbus State, ranked No. 8 in women’s tennis and No. 6 on the men’s side, will present a challenge. That is what excites Saints sophomore No. 1 Lukas Storck.
“It will be a key point in the season,” Storck said. “We had a couple matches over spring break, which were not too hard. We could change a little bit of the lineup to figure out what was best and the freshmen got some matches. This weekend, we have to step up our focus and present everything we have on the court, even though we play tough teams. Even though Saturday’s opponent is not supposed to be as tough as other teams, we have to take every team seriously to get the win.”
Storck was 12-10 in singles as a freshman in 2016 and part of one of the Southeast Region’s best doubles tandems with Kevin Gonzalez. In addition to his 7-4 mark in singles play, Storck has partnered with freshman Felipe Carvalho on the doubles side and posted an 8-3 mark.
Storck said a win in No. 1 doubles — which is played before the singles matches — has a way of infusing belief throughout the entire team. The sophomore from Frankfurt, Germany said that when he and Carvalho play their best, they believe they can beat anyone in Division II.
Flagler’s 10-match winning streak is the second-longest on the women’s side in the program’s 10 years as a Division II program. While the men have also won 10 in a row, their steak may be more impressive because the program has only won 12 matches in a Division II season once and been forced to eke out its three conference victories by 5-4 scores.
“I’m more nervous watching my teammates in the clincher, than when it’s (me) on the court,” Storck said. “So far, it’s great. The team is super great. It’s so much fun to be in these situations because that’s the biggest reason why we play the sport.”