2014 Hope men's tennis team, from left, front, Sam Kreps, Jon Hoffman, Cody Herbruck, Jon Panzer, Matt Culver, TJ Brogan; back, Colin McKey, Parker Bussies, Ben Johnson, Henry Peabody, Chris Tippett, Cam Ludlow, Coach Steve Gorno

The Hope College men’s tennis team has been awarded the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Team Sportsmanship Award for men’s tennis for the month of May.

It is the second time in six seasons the Flying Dutchmen have been honored.

The ITA National Team Sportsmanship Award is a monthly award that goes to one men’s and one women’s team that has exemplified outstanding sportsmanship, character and ethical conduct in the true spirit of competition and collegiate tennis. The winners are selected by the ITA Ethics and Infractions Committee from nominations received from all ITA member institutions (NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community Colleges). This monthly award began in 2004.

The recognition is rewarding, Hope coach Steve Gorno said.

“For our team, sportsmanship is one of the highest-held principles that we stand for,” Gorno said. “It says a lot about the integrity and character of our guys and how consistently they represent Hope so well.”

Alma College nominated the Flying Dutchmen for the award.

Hope was set to play an outdoor spring match at Alma College on March 29, but Alma coach Chris Sandro called to discuss postponing the match since Alma’s courts had snow on them. Alma’s indoor facilities were an option, but its courts were made of a non-traditional tennis surface with multiple lines. The two teams had played at the indoor facility in the past in similar circumstances.

Historically, Hope had dominated this match up having won every dual match with Alma dating back to 1993. However, Hope had graduated four of its top five singles players from the previous season and was missing two of its top three singles players from this year’s squad. 

As both coaches expected a much closer battle than in years past, Sandro expected Gorno to agree to postpone the match, but the Hope coach said he wouldn’t agree to play one year with a strong team on an indoor court, then not agree the next year with a younger team.

On the decision to play the match, Gorno said, “Injuries, inclement weather and home court advantage are all part of competition and overcoming adversity is one of sport’s most valuable life lessons. We can’t expect our players to have the courage to act with integrity on the court if we don’t have the courage as coaches to model that behavior off the court.

“We made the decision as a team to play the match despite less than ideal circumstances because we felt it was the right thing to do; it is their indoor tennis facility and it was available for our scheduled match. Rescheduling to avoid playing on these courts would have felt dishonest.”

Alma ended up defeating Hope, coming back to win the final three singles matches for a thrilling 5-4 victory – the Scots’ first win over Hope in over two decades.

“Coach Gorno agreed to play an indoor match, even when it wasn’t in the best competitive interest of his team.” Sandro said, “Integrity, sportsmanship, character, values; these are the types of things that we should all make sure we are passing on to our players, they are more important than any win.” 

On the match itself, Gorno said, “As a coach, I couldn’t be prouder of my players - not just for how hard they fought to meet the challenges we faced that day, but also how they handled a hard-fought defeat with humility, grace, and class. We had opportunities to win but Alma’s players came up big under intense pressure to earn that victory. In the end, we lost to a team and a coach that display the same level of exceptional sportsmanship that this award represents.”