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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

More than the wins

The Bethel University Women’s Tennis team continues to progress toward a MIAC championship title with an 11-match winning streak.
Ashlee Mortenson
Doubles partners Emma Thole and Michaella Sullivan practice at the outdoor Ona Orth courts March 7, 2024. They have had impressive performances together all season, helping the women’s team in their 11-0 record. “I play second doubles with Emma and it’s been a lot of fun,” Sullivan said. “She’s a good leader for me and I think we work really well together.”

The warm weather brings more than sunshine to the Ona Orth tennis courts of Bethel University. For the Royals’ women’s tennis team, it brings change, new opportunities and a chance at the MIAC championship title. 

Last season, the Royals got knocked out of the playoffs in the semifinals by Gustavus Adolphus College. This season, they have yet to lose a match, giving them a program best of an 11-match winning streak. With two freshmen and no seniors, the young team of 11 continues to play hard in hopes of making it farther than last year. 

“My goal for the team is honestly just to be really competitive and have a drive to win, but winning is not everything,” junior Emma Thole said. “So have fun playing the sport, but be competitive. And I think we’re doing a really good job of that so far.” 

Thole started playing for Bethel her freshman year. Currently, she plays at four singles and two doubles with her partner, freshman Michaella Sullivan. Since Thole joined, the team has developed into more of a family for her — that’s why she continues to play in a Royals jersey. 

When she started playing, the team consisted of mostly upperclassmen. Now there are only three juniors while the rest of the women hold a sophomore and freshman standing. 

“I’ve been so lucky. Each year has had its own set of challenges, but it’s brought so many opportunities and it’s just been so different,” Thole said. 

Between team dinners that consist of pasta at Thole’s house, laughter as they reminisce over the season and matches where the women cheer each other on from the sidelines, the team leaders — including sophomores Lauryn Douglas and Julia Baber — cultivate a culture that continues to pull new players in. They want to be a team that wins, but they also want to enjoy the sport they love. Thole describes the team as supportive, strong, competitive and humble. Part of that culture comes from head coach Drew Fernelius, who Thole says is the best coach she has ever had. She says that his coaching inspires great leaders who support each other and push each other to give all the glory to God.

“I think being a Christ-centered team is so important because it just recenters our values and helps us refocus on what it really means to be a Christian athlete,” Thole said. 

Fernelius also coaches the men’s team, which brings another aspect to the court. During matches, the men’s team sits on the sidelines, shouting at the girls to play harder and give it their all. The bond that the men’s and women’s teams share is one that not many non-co-ed teams get to experience. 

The two teams strengthen their bond each year when they go to Florida for a spring break tournament. During the trip, the two teams cook dinner for each other, go to the beach, go on bike rides and cheer each other on in their matches. It’s a time that brings the athletes together both on and off the court.

Michaella Sullivan works on her serve during practice March 7, 2024. Sullivan has made an impression on the tennis courts already, being named a MIAC Athlete of the Week during the beginning of her freshman season. “I want to keep that competitive drive throughout the entire season. And working on my doubles game is really important to me, because I haven’t had as much experience,” Sullivan said. (Ashlee Mortenson)

Sullivan never thought she would end up at Bethel. As the youngest of four, she wanted to make her own path in the world and had her heart set on playing tennis at the Division II level. But through the encouragement of her high school tennis coach and the idea of a small engineering program, she decided to become a Royal. After her impressive performance against University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, she was selected as the MIAC Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week Feb. 19. 

The win against Eau Claire heightened the team’s confidence after the Royals’ loss to them last season. The women had gone into the match expecting to play against a certain lineup, but when they got there, the UWEC coach had mixed it up. But the Royals were still able to come out on top and Sullivan’s performance added to the win. 

“I just wanted to do my part and help the team accomplish [a win],” Sullivan said. “I came in really pumped up and it’s probably my best match of the season and then I was recognized for it, so that was really exciting.”

The team supports Sullivan in ways that she had never experienced before coming to college. When the nerves were getting ahold of her the first time she played in a college match, the team came together and calmed her down. 

As captain of the team, Thole is organized and hardworking. She always keeps a positive attitude and Sullivan looks up to her as a role model but also as her doubles partner. Courtney Nuest is another role model on the team for Sullivan. She’s easy to talk to and is always looking out for the other girls. On Valentine’s Day, Nuest brought Sullivan flowers because she knew she was having a hard week. 

Faith plays a big role on the women’s tennis team. The team gets together Wednesday mornings for a community group. They share stories about their faith journey and what they have been struggling with or learning about from God. And before every match, the team comes together and prays. 

“I feel like it’s helped unite us even more,” Sullivan said. “When you have the common morals of faith and then can hear each other’s stories, I think that’s really awesome.”

An 11-match winning streak puts pressure on the team that they haven’t had to deal with before. The team hopes to continue to build what they have started and grow their confidence as they head into playoffs.

This season they still have to face off against Gustavus and Carleton, the leading teams in the conference. But with confidence and each other, the team has a chance to make it farther than before and add a championship title to the trophy case. 

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About the Contributors
Taylor Hanson, Sports Editor
Taylor Hanson, 19, is a sophomore organizational communications major with a journalism minor. Taylor is involved at Bethel as a Shift leader and as the Director of Intramurals. She loves finding coffee shops tucked away in the cities, going to any athletic event or scootering around campus with her friends.  [email protected] | 720.425.5218
Ashlee Mortenson, Staff Photographer
Ashlee Mortenson, 20, is a junior missional ministries major and communications minor. In her free time, Ashlee enjoys reading, rock climbing, watching “That 70’s Show”, embroidering, working on random art projects, collecting mugs and spending time with friends. [email protected] | 612.940.8029
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