Jeff Rutherford credits a rather unlikely source for the success he enjoyed on the tennis court during his sophomore season at Eastern Illinois University.

“I made pretty good buddies with a guy on the football team who is my next door neighbor,” Rutherford said. “He’s really helped me to get bigger and I think it’s really helped. It’s definitely carried over into my game.”

All that time in the weight room certainly paid off for Rutherford.

The Richmond native and former Model Laboratory School standout spent most of the season as EIU’s No. 1 player and last week was named a First-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection.

Rutherford finished the regular season with a 13-8 overall record and won seven of his nine OVC singles matches. He also posted a 5-2 record playing doubles with teammate Vuk Milicevic.

“It’s a great achievement and hopefully I can build on it and keep improving,” Rutherford said of the honor.

After a standout high school career, which included three straight regional championships, Rutherford jumped right into the lineup when he arrived at EIU last year. He had the most wins on the team (15) and had a seven-match winning streak late in the season playing primarily as the Panthers’ No. 5 player.

Rutherford also posted a 3-2 record in limited action as a doubles player.

He continued to excel this season, even as he faced tougher competition after moving to the top of the team’s lineup.

“Jeff is not only one of the top players in the conference, but in my opinion the most improved,” EIU coach John Blackburn said. “He had an outstanding year and has a great future ahead of him.”

Behind the play of Rutherford and Second-Team All-OVC selections Jordan Nesrud and Robert Stedman, the Panthers finished tied for third in the league standings with Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky.

EIU took on JSU in the first round of the OVC Tournament on Friday in Nashville and suffered a 4-3 season-ending loss.

Rutherford faced Eduardo Suratt at No. 1 singles and was handed a 6-1, 6-2 loss.

“That was a rough loss, but I was proud of the way our team fought,” Rutherford said. “I had a tough match at No. 1, but the other guys really stepped up.”

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