Dec. 23, 2008
By Phil Landry
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Holy Cross' newest athletic facility renovation has come in the form of new courts for the tennis programs. The courts' new features include walkways around all the courts for better fan viewing, lights on four courts, fences on both sides of the courts, and more space between courts and behind the baseline. With home courts to be proud of, the Crusaders are now able to host numerous matches during the year without having to travel to the majority of their contests. Last year, each team only hosted three matches, while this year, the women are playing 10 home matches and the men are playing nine.
The new courts have been a welcome addition to many of the players who found the old courts less than favorable. "The playing surface was worn down and slick, weeds grew out of the cracks that covered the courts," said senior Brendan McElhenny. "There was not enough space between courts so play would be continuously interrupted."
Not only were the courts unsightly, they also affected matches. As senior Melanie Bunke points out, "We `played the cracks' on the court, so if a ball landed on a crack and bounced awkwardly, you were still responsible for getting the ball back to your opponent. This could obviously work for or against players, but either way it was a nuisance during a match. Also, because of the lack of fencing and small space between courts, matches often took longer because players had to chase balls up the hill or onto other courts where people were playing."
The courts have brought a new attitude to the Crusaders' tennis programs. "The new courts are gorgeous," said junior Kristen Meahl. "They are a huge improvement and very exciting for the Holy Cross tennis programs."
"They've already drawn a great deal of attention to the tennis program at Holy Cross, with noticeably more people coming down to see the matches." said Bunke. "It is an exciting possibility that with the new facility Holy Cross could one day host a Patriot League Championship," added Meahl.
The new courts are not only a cosmetic improvement for the program. Along with the addition of home matches, the speed of the courts offers an advantage that will work in favor of the Crusaders. "The old courts could have been considered the fastest courts in Division I," said McElhenny. "The new courts have new paint and the surface is much slower, meaning the ball slows down after it bounces," continued head coach Mike Lucas. "It will work to our advantage against big hitting scholarship programs."
In the past, coach Lucas has had the task of attracting recruits to Holy Cross despite the poor shape of the courts. "It has been tough to recruit the past few years when we really had no viable facility for kids to play on," said Lucas.
McElhenny sees the new courts as a big help in recruiting. "In past years, recruits who saw the old courts would think, `Why would I want to play here for the next four years?' A brand new facility should absolutely bring in some new talented players who can take the program to the next level."
With the new courts, Lucas as well as his players have already seen an improvement in recruiting. "We already have a strong freshmen class this year with three of the six starters being freshmen, due in part to the prospect of new courts," said Bunke. "Since my freshman year we have started a weight-training program and re-entered the Patriot League. With the addition of these new courts, the Holy Cross tennis program will undoubtedly improve even more than it already has."
The goals of the teams remain to continue to improve their tennis games and standing in the Patriot League. "In my four years here at HC our goals as individuals and as a team have always been to compete and try to get better in every facet of the game," said McElhenny. "This year is our third year back in the Patriot League and we would like to score some upset wins in league play this spring."
"We have always tried to improve and have fun. From day one, coach Lucas has brought a great perspective to the team and encourages us to work hard at our individual game and grow as a team, but also to enjoy all aspects of being a student-athlete," Bunke added.
The Crusaders look to continue to improve their play on the new courts as the season continues. "The new courts have given the program a second life," said McElhenny. Both teams will play their first home matches of the spring on Mar. 21 against Fairfield.