Tennis back, swinging the racket

Head tennis coach Steve Ascher has had his work cut out for him ever since stepping onto the South Park Blocks in 2006.

Head tennis coach Steve Ascher has had his work cut out for him ever since stepping onto the South Park Blocks in 2006.

Ascher has been responsible for resurrecting a defunct Vikings tennis program that fell victim to a budget cut in 2002. Now, after more than a year of planning and recruiting, the Vikings are back on the court and ready to take on the Big Sky.

Rebuilding a program is always difficult, but starting from scratch intensifies the challenges most first-year head coaches will face.

“The greatest challenge in rebuilding has been making sure that we have the depth, in terms of personnel,” Ascher said. “To do that we need strong recruiting classes and players to bring in that are talented and willing to grow with the program.”

The athletes that Ascher has brought to Portland State to compete this season will set the tone for the future of the Vikings tennis program.

“We want to put out a product that’s going to be competitive,” Ascher said.

Ascher oversees both the men and women’s programs, which combine for a total of 15 tennis players.

Consisting of six freshmen, the women’s squad contains just enough bodies to fill out the match-day lineup card, meaning every member of the team will get court time and a lot of it.

In their first Big Sky match of the season versus Northern Arizona Saturday, the Vikings lost 7-0, but were competitive against the Lumberjacks, a sign of progress for the young squad. Freshmen Lacey Pflibsen, Molly Knox and Alyssa Ferry were all able to steal a set from their respective Lumberjack opponents before falling in defeat.

Ascher expects his players to compete and improve throughout the season, focusing on individual development and making the transition to the Division I level.

“We work a lot of one-on-one attention at practice, trying to strengthen areas of their games that need work,” Ascher said. “Really we are coaching for each individual’s games style.”

On the men’s side, the Vikings have a little more depth with nine players on the roster, five of whom are freshmen. So far, Ascher has been pleased with the progress the younger players have made and has even been impressed with their quiet confidence.

“Sean Eberle, Alex VanDerschelden, and Jeff Cero have done a tremendous job rising to the occasion,” Ascher said. “They’re not so vocal but they show leadership through their actions.”

Of the three freshmen, VanDerschelden, from Lake Tapps, Wash., has been the most competitive, winning a few matches over the holidays in open tournaments as well as being the only Viking to win a set, coming two weeks ago in the conference opener versus Weber State.

Based on the first couple weeks of the season, winning lots of matches does not appear to be in the stars for these young Vikings, but an opportunity to set a strong foundation for the future of tennis at Portland State is definitely within their grasp.

“A lot of different players are stepping up,” Ascher said. “Overall, there should be quite a few surprises. I’m hoping everyone steps up because we need everyone in the starting lineup to compete, but we’re going to see some surprises out of everybody.”