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Tennis team takes to the court

Jan. 31, 1997

James Phillips/ The Baylor Lariat

James Matthew, a British Columbia junior, hits a forehand shot at practice Thursday. Matthew and the Bears host the University of Texas-Pan American this Saturday afternoon.

By Kevin Allen

Lariat Sports Reporter

The Baylor men's tennis team opens its spring schedule against the University of Texas-Pan American Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at the Streich Tennis Courts.

The Baylor team returns only three players from the fall season, but has recruited five new players who will join the team this spring. First year coach Matt Knoll hopes to find success in the Big 12 by reviving a team that finished last in the Southwest Conference for nine consecutive years.

'The Big 12 has done good things for all Baylor sports, including tennis,' said Knoll. 'Increased support from the university allows us to travel and play a national schedule.'

But traveling will not be new to this year's team. Of the eight players on the team, seven are international students, four of whom are starting their first semester at Baylor. Knoll said it has been a challenge for the new players to adjust to the differences in the American education system and culture in general, but this has brought the team closer together.

'We've got some good chemistry. Anytime you bring a bunch of new guys together, they form a special relationship,' Knoll said.

The team has set high goals, one of which is reaching the NCAA Tournament in May. Knoll could be the coach to get them there. He comes to Baylor from the University of Kansas, where he spent two years as an assistant coach. During that time, Kansas won two Big 8 championships.

'He's a great motivator, and a great coach,' said Brandon Birmingham, a sophomore from Carrollton. Knoll embraced the new members of the team, and was essential in creating the close relationships felt among team members, Birmingham said.

This year Knoll leads a young team into the inaugural Big 12 season. There are no seniors on this year's team, three juniors, two sophomores, and three freshmen. Despite the youth, Knoll is confident his team will succeed this year.

'We are in a building process,' Knoll said. 'If we can set a foundation for the future, we will have done well.'

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