Men’s, women’s teams to host Biola in season opener
Tennis season opens today at Westmont College, with its women’s team taking the court with a mature and experienced squad and the men’s team serving up the promise of youth.
Both teams will play host to Biola, with the women starting at 11 a.m. and the men to follow at 1 p.m.
Westmont’s women, ranked No. 19 in the NAIA preseason poll, return their top five players from last year. The Warriors had a No. 18 ranking and 5-1 record in the Golden State Athletic Conference (6-8 overall, with three losses coming to NCAA Division 1 opponents) when last season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I definitely think the women who were on the team last year have this sense that we were on our way to something big last season,” coach Ellie Johnson said. “I would say that among the returners, they do really feel a sense of unfinished business they want to take care of.”
Former Santa Barbara High star Cade Pierson felt so strongly that she took advantage of an NAIA waiver to repeat her senior year. She went 8-2 at No. 1 singles last year, which included wins over two NCAA Division 1 opponents, and was ranked No. 5 in the NAIA.
“I don’t think I can describe how grateful I am to have her back and how excited I am to have her,” Johnson said. “She’s an amazing tennis player and has continued to put the time and work in to develop herself as a player, and she for sure feels like she has unfinished business from last season.
“She’s excited and grateful for the opportunity she has to play another season. Most people don’t get that, and she’s definitely not taking that for granted.”
Pierson is aiming to become the first player in Westmont history to win four Golden State Athletic Conference women’s singles championships. She won last year’s ITA NAIA Arthur Ashe Leadership & Sportsmanship Award.
“Through the uncertainty of the times right now, I know the rest of the team looks to her to see how Cade is handling it and what to do,” Johnson said. “It makes my life a whole lot easier to have Cade, and I genuinely enjoy being around her as a person.
“She’s trained hard. She never stopped training hard. I think she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. I have no doubt she will add to her collection of awards and accomplishments.”
The Warriors also return juniors Emily Peterson, Rachal Jackson and Sidney Lowry. They are actually redshirt sophomores in eligibility because of last year’s shortened season.
“Sid is super hard-working and is always wanting to push to the next level,” Johnson said. “She’s really learning how to play within herself and how to add variety to her game.”
Also back is sophomore Christine Hemry, who has redshirt freshman eligibility. True freshmen Logan Jackson and Olivia Madarang have also joined the roster.
The Westmont men also return their No. 1 singles player, redshirt junior Matt Alleman. He is the only upperclassman on the roster, but a highly rated freshman class gives Mark Basham high hopes for his 12th season as the Warriors’ coach.
“I believe they are all a good fit for our Westmont community and our tennis team,” he said of his four recruits.
Callen Hein of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., is Basham’s first four-star recruit at Westmont. He was ranked No. 8 in South Carolina’s boys U-18 division and in the top-40 for the entire South Section. At No. 9, he was the highest-seeded Warrior during this fall’s ITA NAIA West Regional in San Diego.
“Callen is a talented lefty with lots of passion for the sport, while also being a strong student,” Basham said.
Basham also recruited the area’s top high school player, Cate School’s Ethan Ha, who won three Tri-Valley League singles championships. He also led the Rams to the 2017 CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinals.
Ha and Hein combined as a doubles team at last fall’s ITA NAIA West Regional to upset their way to the doubles semifinals, beating the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinals. Ha also advanced to the singles quarterfinals before losing to the No. 3 seed.
“Ethan has an excellent tennis IQ, a strong passion for the game, and lots of match experience,” Basham said. “He has a very solid overall game which will become even better in the coming months.”
Another freshman, Logan Thompson of West Linn, Ore., won the consolation singles at the ITA NAIA West Regionals,
“I was really impressed overall with Logan’s strokes and overall demeanor,” Basham said. “Logan strikes his ground strokes really clean, has a big first serve and I strongly believe he is going to reach a very high level in singles and in doubles.”
The Warriors’ other true freshman, Michael Hopkins, is also from Oregon. Brothers Trevor and Taylor Stephens, both of whom redshirted last year, are also joining the roster.
Alleman leads a group of returning players that includes last year’s No. 2 singles player, Zachary Prince, No. 4 Benjamin Saito and No. 5 Sebastian Vethan.
“I am excited about all 10 of our players,” Basham said.