by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – After four straight years of fitting a driving trip to Mobile, Ala., into the middle of spring semester final exams, the two seniors on Bethel College’s women’s tennis team say it’s definitely been worth it.
Bethel women’s tennis made a fifth consecutive appearance at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics 2013 championship meet, representing the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Shayne Runnion, Phillipsburg, and Miranda Weaver, Hesston – roommates and team co-captains this year – have been playing for the Thresher women since they were freshmen.
“The neatest thing I saw,” says Weaver of this year’s national tournament bid, “was the change in goals for our team. Losing in the first round hurt more this year. We’ve set our standard higher – we think we can compete.”
“It’s not enough just to show up,” adds Runnion. “That was the victory before – just to get there. This time the sense that it was within reach to win the first round made it harder [to lose].”
The NAIA tournament is a team (rather than individual) championship. A team must win five of nine matches to advance.
Bethel was matched in the first round with Oklahoma Baptist University, whom they’d played very competitively early in the regular season.
“This year’s team really believed they had a chance, especially when we saw our opening matchup with Oklahoma Baptist,” says Lonnie Isaac, head coach.
Despite the first-round loss, Runnion and Weaver weren’t sorry they went to Mobile, this year or any other.
Weaver cited “the team bonding that happens. The trip solidifies the team spirit.”
“It unifies you at the end of the year,” Runnion adds. “Going into the summer, it’s motivation to work hard and get better.”
Being at the national tournament also improves the team’s tennis overall, the two say.
“When we’re so dominant in [the KCAC],” Weaver says, “it’s hard to be as aggressive [as we could be]. This pushes us to the max.”
“It brings out the best,” Runnion agrees. “Ashley [Koester] and Bree [Honer] played the best they had all year. They smashed, 8-1 – made the other team look bad.”
“It’s easy to settle when you’ve made it to nationals , to get complacent and check out, and they didn’t,” says Sam Gaeddert, a former Bethel tennis player now finishing his third year as assistant coach. “This was the hardest I’ve seen them push themselves. It was fun to watch everybody. I’m very proud of them.”
Weaver and Runnion were freshmen players when Gaeddert was a senior on the men’s team and knew him in that capacity before he was one of their coaches. They say they’ve seen him develop into “a really good coach.”
So a highlight for the team at the national tournament this year was having Gaeddert named Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Assistant Coach of the Year for Central West, Bethel’s region, which they all found out at the tournament banquet right before the matches began.
They were also moved by the support they felt from the rest of the Bethel community.
“It was great,” says Weaver. “We had the biggest crowd ever for our send-off this year.”
Plus, says Runnion, “Kent [Allshouse, athletic director] showed up in Mobile and surprised us. We can’t really express how much that meant.”
Isaac noted his own gratitude for four years of working with Weaver and Runnion.
“We had great leadership with Miranda and Shayne,” he says. “They were in different roles this year in terms of where they were in the lineup, but both are very sensitive to the needs of team. They put team success ahead of individual.
“From the standpoint of a head coach, that’s the most important thing to me, that they can accept their role, whether on or off the court. Those leadership qualities help the team. They’ve done very well in their four years.”
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
In sports, Bethel competes within the 10-school KCAC and the NAIA. For more information, see www.bethelthreshers.com.