Reinhardt’s rise to prominence in NAIA men’s tennis has not gone unnoticed as the Eagles set a new program standard with a No. 2 ranking in this week’s coaches’ poll.
Reinhardt opened the season ranked fifth and won its first seven matches to move up three spots.
“We’re just blown away,” coach Jennifer Pourchier said. “It’s many hours of grinding really starting to pay off. I feel like we’ve shown that we deserve it. There isn’t quite as much separation among the top teams as there has been in the past, but we’ve beaten a lot of good teams so far.”
Reinhardt’s run to the NAIA semifinals last season foreshadowed this year’s success. The Eagles cruised to their fourth straight Appalachian Athletic Conference championship, but their three straight national tournament wins were unprecedented.
“It was a confidence-boost, for sure,” Pourchier said. “I think that showed the guys we could compete with anyone. We haven't really gotten anywhere close to that before, so just seeing it happen did a lot.”
Pourchier was not sure how much that experience would help, though, as five players from last year’s roster graduated, and just six players returned.
Those losses included two-time AAC Player of the Year and All-American Fabio Periera, who stayed on as an assistant coach, but it has not mattered. The Eagles have already beaten three ranked teams and have yet to surrender more than three points.
“They just play hard,” Pourchier said. “You just can’t replace a player like Fabio. I think we know that, but everyone has stepped up a little bit and improved at least a little bit every day.”
Martin Mendoza, a junior transfer from ASA Miami, has stepped in to fill the void at No. 1 singles.
Myrohn Miranda, Jordi Puig and Pau Pujadas have also played well in singles, and while Pourchier knows things will not get any easier with the increased exposure, she did not think the players were feeling the pressure.
“They’re loving life right now,” she said. “I think I feel it more as a coach than they do as players. They have a history of stepping up in big matches, and they’ve done that all year. If they can keep doing that, we should be able to give ourselves a chance later in the season.”
There is still one major hurdle standing in Reinhardt’s way in Georgia Gwinnett, which will host Reinhardt in its regular-season finale. The Grizzlies have won the last five NAIA championships and have held the top spot in each of the last 41 coaches’ polls.
While Georgia Gwinnett will be favored to keep both streaks going, Pourchier is preparing her team for a changing of the guard.
“You can’t take anything away from what Georgia Gwinnett has done,” she said. “They’re always the favorites for a reason. They’re just really good. To beat them, we have to be at our absolute best, but you never know. All we can do is handle one match at a time and try to get there to give ourselves a shot.”