GREEN BAY - For the first time in school history, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men's tennis team is the Horizon League regular-season champion. The team clinched at least a share of the title with a win over Wright State on Saturday. It's just the next step forward for a program that made its first NCAA tournament appearance last season.
Senior Eric Finkenbrink said he's seen a difference in the competition within the Horizon League this year.
"You can definitely tell that we are the team that other teams in our conference go after," Finkenbrink.
They've done it with a youth-filled roster. Eight of the ten players are underclassmen, including five freshmen.
Head Coach Mark Thomas said it's been a quick learning curve for his first-year players.
"Three of them actually came here in January, so they've only been here for three months, and it's been amazing to see the progress in those three months."
Finkenbrink has been impressed by the progression of his young teammates.
"After the middle of the season, they competed way tougher and winning most of their matches - which we wanted them to and needed them to," Finkenbrink said.
The Phoenix's two seniors, Craig Cox and Erik Finkenbrink, have taken on an almost older brother role for their teammates.
"It's not just on the tennis court. It's teaching these guys to cook, what the workouts are like. It's a daily routine," Thomas said.
Cox, from England, and Finkenbrink, from Germany have also helped their young teammates adjust to life in America. Four of the five Phoenix freshmen are from other countries. Craig Cox knows well what it's like having to learn about a new way of life.
"I think schooling is very different, especially when you come from a different country. Tennis, the setup is completely different, and just living away from home," Cox said.
Sophomore Michael Tenzer, also a German-born player, added, "They showed the younger guys how to compete and how to integrate into our team."
Integrate with the team and pass along advice to help them. Finkenbrink said the most important thing he wanted the freshmen to learn was to keep progressing as the season goes along.
"Just make your experiences early on and then take those experiences in your later years and later part of the season to be successful."
The Phoenix need to win the Horizon League tournament, held April 26-28 in Indianapolis, to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive season.
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