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Sophomore makes strong comeback on the court
By Ben Buursma
Ryan DeNooyer (Kalamazoo, Mich.)

If Calvin College’s men’s tennis team is going to challenge Hope College for the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s second spot next spring, it will need another year of steady improvement from Ryan DeNooyer.

DeNooyer spent this past spring getting back into form after limping through his freshman campaign on a partially torn ACL. The sophomore from Kalamazoo Christian High School initially injured his knee playing basketball, but didn’t realize the ACL was torn until the tennis season started last spring.

Even with the injury, DeNooyer paired up with Tom Zeilstra for doubles sporting a leg brace, but didn’t have enough mobility to play singles.

"I had never really been injured in my life except for maybe a sprained ankle," DeNooyer said. "So I didn’t realize all of the work you have to put in to get your knee or any other injury back to normal. It’s tough. Your body just can’t do all the things it used to be able to do, and you have to put a lot of time and work into the rehabilitation."

After a year of nearly constant rehab, DeNooyer returned to pair with David Sneller in doubles action for the Knights, amassing a 15-8 regular-season record and taking third place at the MIAA championships in the No. 3 slot.

DeNooyer’s biggest comeback, however, was his return to form in singles.

"I would say that from the beginning to the end of the year I slowly got better," DeNooyer said. "And at the end of the year I hit my peak. Going into the tournament I think I had a six- or seven-game winning streak, so I definitely got back into it and hit my stride as the year went on."

As the Knights’ No. 6 singles player this spring, DeNooyer finished second in the MIAA to Kalamazoo College’s Luke Marker in both the regular season and the conference championship. DeNooyer went up 3-0 on Marker in the regular-season match before losing, and he took Marker to the limit in the finals before bowing 7-5, 7-5, convincing himself that he can again play with the best in the league.

"Everybody knows that ‘K’ has great players, and they had a great team again this year," DeNooyer said. "And I proved to myself that I can beat (Marker) if I just think it. If you go up against (Kalamazoo), you always think you’re going to lose. But that was the wake-up call for me that it’s possible to beat them, and if it happens again next time, I’ll take advantage of it."

The Knights, who finished third in the MIAA in 2004, will continue gunning for Kalamazoo – the team that’s won at least a share of the MIAA title every year since 1936 – but a more realistic goal, DeNooyer says, is to beat out rival Hope College for second place.