Lipscomb tennis player Colby Shaw likes competition. That’s a good thing since he, and his fellow seniors, are feeling the heat from the two juniors, two sophomores and one freshman on the 2013 team.
The Bisons are fresh from a 4-3 home win over Abilene Christian Friday night, the No. 11-ranked team in NCAA Division II. It was the first match win for the Bisons, 1-2, this season. Shaw pointed out that seniors did not carry the match.
“We have generally the same team that we did last year, but one big difference is the experience we have this year,” Shaw said. “You can already tell that three matches in. We don’t just have leaders in the older guys in the lineup. The younger guys can step up too. That is huge for us.
“Last year we had three juniors and one senior, but a lot of guys that contributed last year were the younger guys. And you look at our match against ACU and the three seniors combined for zero of the four wins we had. The four wins were from two sophomores and two juniors.”
Shaw views the competition as a motivational factor both in practices and in matches.
“They are definitely pushing us,” Shaw said. “A lot of the time you think a senior is going to be playing because it his last year and the coach is going to put him in the lineup, but that is definitely not the case.
“We have eight guys who can come out and contribute in our lineup. Everybody has to bust it all the time because we know if we don’t there is a guy that is ready to step up.”
Shaw is impressed that this year’s team is blessed with a strong work ethic from top-to-bottom.
“Last year we had a pretty good work ethic,” Shaw said. “But in my first couple of years here we definitely had some guys coming to practice who weren’t really there mentally.
“Tennis is an individual sport. But to get better you have to have everybody working all the time.”
Shaw was ranked No. 1 in the state of Kentucky, but like most collegiate players he quickly discovered that the level of play in NCAA Division I is highly-competitive.
“I think people are sometimes rudely awakened when they realize that everybody at this level is just as good as they are,” Shaw said. “But, at the same time, I think you also quickly realize that it is a good thing, especially on your own team.
“When you can push each other in practice each player gets immensely better. It is unreal the improvement you can have.”
Shaw started competitive tournament tennis late in life at the age of 14. Like most sports-minded kids who grow up in Kentucky basketball held a great fascination.
“My dream was to play basketball,” Shaw, a native of Lexington, Ky., said. “But I realized in middle school I probably wasn’t going be playing basketball anywhere.
“I loved baseball so I narrowed it down to baseball and tennis. I started playing tennis with my Dad. I made my high school team as a sixth grader. And I just fell in love with tennis. From the age of about 13 on I didn’t want to play anything else.”
Starting so late in the game helped Shaw produce a competitive edge that continues to serve him well.
“Growing up I didn’t have all of the lessons and all of the work on my technique,” Shaw said. “I think a lot of times some guys are stronger than I am in that aspect.
“But I think I have a will to win. Sometimes when I am not playing my best, or even when I am playing guys that are better than me, I think I just want it more than they do.”
The Bisons have a busy weekend ahead. They make the short trip to Vanderbilt for a 6:30 p.m. match Friday. Saturday they challenge North Alabama, a Division II team, at Richland Country Club at 7 p.m.
“This will be the third time we have played Vanderbilt since I have been here,” Shaw said. “They are having a great year so far. We played some of their guys in regionals in the fall. We know what to expect from them. They have great guys at the top, but their No. 6 guy is also ranked.
“We have to come out from the very beginning and not be intimidated. We have to play with energy. If we do that I think we can come away with a good result.”
Shaw expects a tough match with North Alabama as well, especially if the Bisons don’t come out ready to play from the first match.
“They are usually pretty solid in doubles,” Shaw said. “In singles they have a couple of guys at the top that are pretty strong.”