The Mount Aloysius men's tennis team is full of new faces in 2014 as the program has a first-year coach and a team dominated with first-year collegiate tennis players.
Mike Hample, who was named the new men's tennis coach over the winter, will look upon a roster comprised of nine freshmen and just one senior. Hample, who has played competitive tennis for over 35 years, is still an active player as he won his age bracket at the PA State Senior Games in 2010.
He isn't new to coaching at the collegiate level either. Hample was hired to reinstitute the men's tennis team at Juniata College in 2000 and coached the team until a job move to Erie in 2002. Upon returning to the area in 2005, Hample became the Tyrone girls tennis coach in 2005 and reinstituted the men's tennis team at Tyrone in 2009. He coached both the boys and girls at Tyrone up until 2012.
Hample's top player at the moment is freshman Aubrey Brown, who is the only player on the roster to play competitive tennis throughout high school. Brown, who also stars for the men's soccer team in the midfield, is not alone in becoming a dual-sport freshman athlete for the Mounties.
Joining him on the men's tennis roster from the men's soccer team at Mount Aloysius are brothers Kevin and John Ouellette, Jim Smith and Ricky Abbs.
"I think it's fantastic that five of my guys decided to join the tennis team this spring," men's soccer coach Matt Davis said. "While all five have different experience levels with competitive tennis, I know all of them are great athletes who will learn quickly under Coach Hample."
Besides Brown, Hample doesn't have to go far to find his other top player, as his son Matt Hample, a Tyrone graduate, currently serves his father at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles with Brown. Rounding out the roster are Tyrone's Joey Gearhart, Adam Pernelli and another set of brothers and Chestnut Ridge's Joel and Justin Fleegle.
The team practices at the Altoona Summit Tennis and Athletic Club, as well as the Ebensburg Tennis Center. Practices start with individual skill training provided by Hample, before the players break out into singles and doubles matches against one another to prepare for spring competition in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
As far as the soccer contingent on the team, all five pointed to a steep learning curve in playing tennis at the college level, but credited Hample with developing their games over a short time period.
"As a group, we decided to join the team because we love the competition. It keeps us busy in the spring, and it's a great way to stay in shape," John Ouellette said.
On other note, Kevin Ouellette pointed to the fact that the two-sport athletes "seem to have more fire and emotion than the normal tennis player."
Abbs, who played tennis throughout his youth in England, believes their competitiveness will help the entire team develop throughout the spring season. He also noted how nearly the entire team is freshmen.
"With us all being relatively new and younger college players, we hope to be a force to be reckoned with in the future."