COLCHESTER – Ivan Llona came to Saint Michael’s College to be a spark for a men’s tennis team looking to rebuild.
After his first year, the Shelburne native had set the record for singles victories in a season and the Purple Knights had finished with its highest win total since 2011-12.
“I’m here not only to perform but to lead,” Llona said. “I wanted to set an example. I want to win for the boys.”
Consider the rebuild in progress.
“We’re really making a name,” Llona said. “When I am a junior I think we will be on the line to compete for NCAAs.”
Llona finished his season with a 12-5 record in singles matches. It was the most for a Saint Michael’s player since Luke Hudak – who tied the record in 2001-02 – and Mike Thomas – who set the previous record in 1980-81.
“I didn’t know until coach told me in the middle of the match,” Llona said. “Coach said, ‘Just keep doing what you are doing, if you win this you get the record.’
“I finished out the set and was so relieved and happy.”
Llona is proud of his individual accomplishment but also sees it as a marker of the steps that his team has taken this season.
“It’s a symbol, we are not playing around,” Llona said. “The record was huge.”
Llona, who graduated from Champlain Valley Union High School in 2018, credits coach Jason Hammel with both his individual improvement and the team’s rise.
Hammel, who became the Saint Michael’s coach midway through last season and spent his first full year as head of the program, spent one-on-one time with every player on the roster.
“I loved my private time with coach, I spent it on my serve the whole time,” Llona said. “My serve improved so much. It was a liability in my game and it wasn’t an issue or a worry towards the end of the season.”
He also added strength training and has worked to get each player on the court every day. The new coaching style resulted in success for the Purple Knights in comparison to past seasons.
“He has really elevated the program,” Llona said.
Llona is hoping this will be a stepping stone for the program that he came to the Colchester school to help rebuild.
“He told me I was going to be a spark to all these recruits,” Llona said. “It worked we have the top recruiting class in the whole conference.”
With a program record under his belt after just one season, Llona has his sights set on setting a new one next year. Or maybe see if one of his teammates can take it down.
“I am going to try and break my own record,” Llona said.
Record aside, Llona plans on pushing this team farther next year – with a playoff spot in his sights.
“I want to be the team that everyone talks about in the conference,” Llona said. “Everyone has to watch out for us next year.”