A common theme has cropped up in Manchester University tennis.
Head coach Eric Christiansen's men's and women's programs, no strangers to postseason tournaments in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, have seen scores of three to four players steadily move through their collegiate careers and become effective leaders … turning the Spartans into a family atmosphere.
"I know it's cliché to say that," he said. "However, it's true. The individuals on both teams get along on and off the courts. It is fun being around them.
That all starts with veteran leadership," he added. "It's no different this year."
On the women's side, the Black and Gold skipper has a returning quartet that can rival the likes of Kara (Gilley) Stevenson, Megan Buckner, Brandy Leeper, Melinda Penrod, Alaina Beckner, and Adriana Brown, some of the past student-athletes that have helped guide Manchester University to seven successive conference tournaments. Seniors Erin Cordill (Zionsville, Ind.), Mariam Aly (Cairo, Egypt), Katy Ashpole (Leesburg, Ind.) and Katie Peden have been there for three of the current league postseason tournament roll. Sophomores Lauren Rodts (Mishawaka, Ind.) and Victoria Rayner (Hobart, Ind.) along with freshman Carly Eichenauer (North Manchester, Ind.) who Christiansen sees as pushing the returners, add to the depth due to each seeing playing time a year ago.
"I'm looking forward (to seeing what we can do)," Christiansen said. "We have a roster of around ten which is a good thing with competition core in some singles and doubles spots. Beyond the returning group, the first years have a lot of potential as they were top players from their high school programs. It is a matter of how quickly the step (into the flow) of college tennis.
This senior bunch is almost like coaches," he added. "Erin is such a quiet leader, but she is always willing to go out with any of the other players and hit. Mariam is an excellent study in being able to get your feet on the ground and moving quickly. Katie leads the troops in regards to organizing things on and off the court, and Katy just loves the game and this team."
Cordill and Aly proved to be one of the HCAC's top duos last season, each garnering all-league honors with Aly earning her first and Cordill becoming a three-time honoree. Cordill, playing in the top singles position, went over the 20-win career mark with her first double-digit victory total, while Aly was a respectable 7-5 playing at the number two singles spot. They were also just under .500 in overall doubles and above the line in conference play, winning four of seven matches at number one. Ashpole and Peden have held down the number three and four singles slots in each of their three previous seasons and teamed up for number two doubles a year ago.
"I feel like we have a top three finish (in our future)," Christiansen said. "We might even be able to go higher, but Hanover and Rose-Hulman are solid. The race for third will be interesting (in the HCAC)."
As for the men, the Spartans' head coach has the senior trio of Kyler Love (North Webster, Ind.), Spencer Thomas (Yorktown, Ind.) and Isaac Collis (Alexandria, Ind.) to lead the way.
"We use the fall to get the guys back into the rhythm of playing while offering the freshman a chance to see what the college game is like," Christiansen said. "I feel like the three seniors can continue to move the program forward.
"Isaac helped keep things pretty organized last year, so I'm sure he will take the leadership role quickly," he added. "Kyler and Spencer have an understanding of what we are trying to achieve, too. I would add (junior) Connor (Eichenauer of North Manchester, Ind.) to that list, too. He stepped up in a big way a year ago."