For the fifth straight year, the Bethel College women's tennis team is at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics nationals and coach Lonnie Isaac feels the Threshers have its best first-round match-up in that time. Bethel meets Oklahoma Baptist at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Mobile Tennis Center in Mobile, Ala. Bethel is 13-3, while OBU is 13-10. The teams were scheduled to meet earlier this season, but the match was canceled because of the weather and was not able to be rescheduled. "OBU is about the best possible match-up we could have got," Isaac said. "Last year, we lost to them 4-5. We had match points against them that would have given us the match. We were rained out a couple times against them this year. There's a confidence factor mentally that's higher than it's ever been. We're going there hoping we can accomplish some great things." Bethel enters as the KCAC regular-season and post-season title. OBU's conference (Sooner Athletic Conference) has just two schools, so the Bison took second at a regional tournament in Tulsa, Okla., losing to Lewis and Clark State 5-2. OBU received an at-large bid to nationals. Bethel's losses were to then 24th-ranked Nebraska Wesleyan 5-4 and NCAA Division II William Jewell (6-1) and Newman (8-1). "Our loss to Nebraska Wesleyan came at the very beginning of the season," Isaac said. "It was indoors. They were ranked 24th and we were ranked 20th. We win that, we're probably in the 15th to 18th spot. We still ended up with a very good draw. Nebraska Wesleyan wound up just one spot ahead of us in the draw." Bethel has won its last 12 straight meets. "We played really well at the end of the year," Isaac said. "The regular-season championship that we won against Kansas Wesleyan, we won 9-0 and played very well. At the conference tournament, it was very important to get out to a 3-0 lead in the doubles. We jumped out to those early leads. We've really made some strides." Bethel is looking to advance to the second round for the first time since the tournament went to a dual meet format. Isaac said his biggest challenge this season was finding the right combinations, especially in doubles. "We're stronger in singles depth-wise," Isaac said. "We have made strides in doubles. We have come a long way and I have a lot of confidence in our doubles teams." Bethel enters with two seniors on the roster — Miranda Weaver and Shayne Runnion. The two joined the team the year the Threshers won the first of its four straight KCAC regular-season titles. "I feel blessed to be part of such a successful team," Weaver said. "The thing I like about college tennis is you have success as a team. It's not just an individual thing. We had to have the whole team do well to go to nationals." Weaver played second singled and first doubles for the Threshers this season. She was first-team All-KCAC. "I enjoyed bonding with the team and supporting each other," Weaver said. "I come to each match with the attitude of taking nothing for granted and fighting for every point. We were ranked as the top team (in the conference), but our reputation wasn't going to win any points for us. We had to go out there and play. It's been fun to be a senior and have that leadership role — in practice and out of practice." Weaver is social work major who graduates shortly. "I'm getting married in July," she said. "I hope to be getting a social work job soon. I'll still be playing tennis for recreation. I'll enjoy life after school." Weaver came from a successful program at nearby Hesston High School. She was Class 4A state singles champion as a senior. "I came here because of the social work program," she said. "Part of it was because of Lonnie. He would come to quite a few of my matches. I felt really at home here." Bethel also will lose sophomore Ashley Koester, who will transfer to the University of Kansas' pharmacy program in the fall. Bethel has had several marquee players come through the women's ranks in the school's history. The next one to join those ranks could be freshman Bree Honer, who plays at first singles and second doubles this year. Honer reached the regional finals of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association tournament in the fall at the NAIA level. That tournament represents the individual championships at the college level, since the post-season tournament went to a team dual meet format. "That was very exciting," Honer said. "The girl from Evangel (in the finals) was a strong player and it was a good match. I tried and can always hope for getting that far in the tournament next year." Despite taking the first singles role, Honer said she hasn't felt a lot of pressure. "From the beginning, (Isaac) expects all of us to play to the best of our ability," Honer said. "He doesn't show favorites and he doesn't put pressure on the top players or the bottom players of the ladder." Honer came to Bethel from St. James Academy in Johnson County, where she was Class 4A singles champion as a junior and runner-up as a senior. As a freshman, she medaled in doubles. "I love it here," she said. "I couldn't be happier. Lonnie and (assistant coach) Sam (Gaeddert) recruited me hard. ... It's been an adjustment (to a small town), but I love it. I came here on a tour and knew it was the place for me." "We had Paige (McKinney), then we had Katie Malotte for four years," Isaac said. "We started recruiting Bree very early. Her desire to go into nursing made her a really good fit. We have other state champions on the roster as well. We have Steph (Shogren), Miranda and Madelyn (Weaver). We have really good depth with players who have won championships and know how to win."
Probable lineups Bethel 13-3 First singles — Bree Honer Second singles — Miranda Weaver Third singles — Ashley Koester Fourth singles — Steph Shogren Fifth singles — Allie Hipp Sixth singles — Madelyn Weaver First doubles — Shogren-Miranda Weaver Second doubles — Honer-Koester Third doubles — Hipp-Madelyn Weaver Oklahoma Baptist 13-10 First singles — Anastasiya Baranova Second singles — Elisa Brito or Lilian Fereirra Third singles — Ashlynne Abbe Fourth singles — Kelsi Lord Fifth singles — Camden Rodriguez Sixth singles — Iveth Luna First doubles — Fereirra-Baranova Second doubles — Rodriguez-Abbe or Marianna Rosa Third doubles — Luna-Lord or Abbe-Brito