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February 14, 2012

Men's Tennis Opens 2012 Season at Home

SEASON OPENER: Pacific Lutheran will host its 2012 men's tennis campaign against visiting non-conference opponent College of Idaho. The match will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17 off campus at the Sprinker Recreation Center. Last season, the Lutes defeated the visiting Yotes 7-2, featuring singles victories from Taylor Dickey, Zack AhYat, Dan Cotton, and Reed Gunstone along with a doubles victory from Neal Berg and AhYat. 

NEW HOME FOR NETTERS: For the first time in program history, the men and womens tennis programs will feature all of their home matches off campus at nearby Sprinker Recreation Center. The indoor facilities will allow a consistent location for both programs to host home matches regardless of weather conditions.

MEET COACH POULIN: A native of Selah, Wash., Rocky Poulin played on four consecutive conference championship teams (1992-95) while at Pacific Lutheran, and three times earned all-conference honors. He also made an appearance at the 1994 national tournament. Poulin played in three conference flighted singles finals while a Lute, winning at No. 5 singles in 1992 and 1994 after finishing second at No. 6 singles on 1993. He was a two-time conference doubles champion, winning at No. 2 with Jon Zepp in 1993 and at No. 3 with Bryant Green in 1994.

"It is very humbling and a great honor to have the opportunity to lead PLU men's tennis," Poulin said. "Of course, I am inspired to continue to make Lute tennis one of the best tennis programs in the country. The coaches before me have built a program that is respected across the nation and I am honored to be following in their footsteps."

He earned a bachelor's degree in physical education with a health education minor from Pacific Lutheran in 1995. Poulin later earned a master's degree in educational technology from City University in Tacoma.

SEASON OUTLOOK: After finishing fifth in Northwest Conference play during the 2011 season and compiling a 6-12 overall record, the Lutes will aim for a run at the top four conference positions this spring under newly hired head coach, Rocky Poulin.

Highlighting the upperclassmen returnees for the Lutes are two seniors, Zach AhYat and Dan Cotton. AhYat, who tied former teammate Scott Sheldon for the 2011 team lead of eight singles victories, will also be joined by junior Taylor Dickey, who received All-Northwest Conference Second Team honors along with Sheldon last season. With a youthful 13-player roster that includes eight freshmen, coach Poulin will implore his upperclassmen to help lead the Lutes into the 2012 season with a winning philosophy and a foundation for future success.

"We need to push ourselves while we are here," said Poulin. "Everything we do should have a purpose whether it's conditioning, hitting serves, talking strategy and goals, it should all have a purpose."

Among some of the younger experienced returnees include sophomores Reed Gunstone and Neal Berg. Gunstone posted a 7-11 singles record while Berg tallied three singles and six doubles match victories during their 2011 campaigns.

Along with Poulin's philosophy, the team's balance of veteran leadership and youthful talent is expected to bring a spark to the program that has finished outside of the top two positions in the Northwest Conference standings the past three seasons. "We have a couple great veteran leaders on this team, but we also have younger players just really getting their feet wet," stated Poulin.

Freshman newcomers include Sam Angel, Zach Blakeslee, Luke Olson, and Spencer Herron, all of whom earned valuable experience in the fall season to help springboard the team into the spring. Both Herron and Angel worked their way into the top six during fall competition.

The new look 2012 Lutes will hope to bring the tennis program back to its historical dominance from the past few decades. The men's tennis program amassed 24 conference championships between the 1972 and 2001 seasons under Mike Benson, who returns to the team as a volunteer assistant coach. PLU's last men's Northwest Conference tennis title came in 2007 under current Lute assistant coach Craig Hamilton. Another former PLU tennis great and coach, Clayton Harris, also joins the coaching staff this year.

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