SMS Dream Team Part 3: Back to Work

 

In the fall of 1991 with the Bears looking for a repeat they would be without their number one player.

“My sophomore year my dad passed away,” Tim Sweeney said,  “so I took a semester off and stayed home with my mom.  My goal was I would come back second semester to be at nationals.”

With his subtraction came a pair of additions for the Bears.  John Ellis, one of the best pure athletes recruited by coach George Baker, would join the team from Stockton California.

“I had some other offers,” Ellis said, “but George’s personality, and they had just won the national title, and I knew who Tim Sweeney was.  Since it was a full ride, I had to take it.  So I came to Springfield from California.”

And re-joining the Bears for his sophomore season Simon Roy.  Roy spent a year away with the Canadian National team.

“It’s great to be part of a family,” Roy said.  “Title as a team is better than a singles title.”

Roy was already a decorated juniors athlete in Canada – winning a gold medal at the 1988 World Championships when he stepped on campus at SMS.

“He’s hitting the ball behind his back, and making it work,” Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Legend, Ned Reynolds said.

“Simon had a pretty, beautiful game,” teammate Jen (Yokota) Sheldon said.

Roy wasn’t a part of that first National Championship for the Bears so, he wanted a collegiate title of his own.  Even with a bunch of teammates who could not pronounce his name correctly

“I have two first names in the US,” Roy said, “Simon and Roy.  It was fun and great.”

And the spring of ’92 would prove to be Simon’s breakout year as a college athlete.

“He won’t blow me off the court,” Derek Robinson said, “but you give him a mistake and he would close it out.”

“In my four years at SMS,” Sweeney said, “I never lost a challenge match or a tournament.  I lost two tournaments in-house though.  One to John Ellis and one to Roy.  The one I lost to Simon was for no money.”

Friendly wagers aside, Simon would end his sophomore year with a singles and doubles National Championship.

Ellis would also claim a singles and doubles title in his only year with the Bears.

And true to his word, Sweeney returned to claim back-to-back number-one National Titles en route to the Bears second straight team National Championship.

“The guys were helping the girls that was the great part of being on a co-ed team,” Sheldon said.

Not only did Baker build a great mens team – but a dominant womens program as well. Something Sheldon witnessed, and was impacted by, first hand by the time she was a senior in ’92.

“He just kept recruiting more and more folks from all across the country and it was amazing, I went from number-one on the women’s team to number three as a senior.”

The women swept the Nationals for a second straight year in ’92.  But for Jen the first title they gave George meant more than this repeat .

“I was so excited for him when we won in ’91, my junior year, because he was starting to look frail then,” Sheldon said.

Sometimes – life is not fair.

“A lot of emotion when I start to talk about George,” Robinson said.  “So impactful in my life.”

At this time, head coach George Baker had to step away from the team he built as he crumbled fighting cancer in front of his players.

“He was sick, got very ill, and it was sad,” Sweeney said.

“We got the team together,” Robinson said, “I was concerned about where Geroge was in his health.  We went to his apartment and there wasn’t much room and we were standing and sitting around him, and there were a lot of thank-yous.”

Baker was confined mainly to his apartment.  The caring leader now could only watch his Dream Team from afar.

“We had to pick ourselves up,” former SMS Racquetball Bear Michael Engelmeyer said, “and the strong leadership at the top comes in.”