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SEASON PREVIEW: youth movement infuses Concordia tennis with talent

By Jake Knabel on Jan. 19, 2016 in Men's Tennis

At a glance

MEN
Head coach: Joel Reckewey (2nd year)
2015 record: 3-10, 1-4 GPAC (5th)
Key returners: Patricio Esquivel (Jr.); Javier Moreno (Jr.); Philip Yox (Jr.)
Key losses: Daniel Apacible; Brendan Buchanan; Jonathan Heckman; Jonathan Douglas

At a glance
WOMEN
Head coach: Joel Reckewey (2nd year)
2015 record: 5-11 overall, 4-3 GPAC (4th)
Key returners: Hannah Boe (So.); Alison Ebel (So.); Annie Horn (So.); Amanda vonSeggern (So.)
Key losses: Grace Hollenbeck; Elyse Kohl; Emily Meisinger
2015 GPAC All-Conference: Grace Hollenbeck (doubles); Elyse Kohl (doubles honorable mention); Emily Meisinger (singles honorable mention, doubles honorable mention)

Season Outlook
Head coach Joel Reckewey will bring new-look squads to the court in his second season at the helm of the program. Of the 22 Concordia men’s and women’s tennis players, 13 are new to the institution in 2015-16. The infusion of talent should provide a boost for programs that finished fourth (women) and fifth (men), respectively, in the conference last season.

This past offseason provided Reckewey, a former University of Nebraska letterwinner, his first chance to really dive head first into recruiting.

“I really enjoy the recruiting aspect,” Reckewey said. “It’s one of my favorite parts of the role – getting to meet people and getting to search out those athletes that will be a good fit for our program. I’m impressed with our recruits. We’re trying to build a high-level tennis program and be the best that we can be.”

The women suffer key losses with the graduation of Grace Hollenbeck and Elyse Kohl, who helped the Bulldogs to a 4-3 conference record in 2015. On the flip side, they return a strong group of sophomores led by Annie Horn, who spent nearly all of her freshman season at the No. 1 singles spot. Horn did her best work when pairing with Hollenbeck at No. 1 doubles (9-6 record).

Reckewey thinks another step forward is in order for Horn.

“I’m really excited for Annie’s opportunity,” Reckewey said. “I know that she’s been working really hard and that she’s excited. She’s in that top position again. That’s a lot of responsibility but she’s been a good role model and she’s helped pave the way for herself to do really well.”

Fellow sophomore Alison Ebel joins Horn as the two most experienced players on the roster. Ebel played in 14 singles matches and five doubles matches as a freshman in 2015. Other sophomores in Hannah Boe and Amanda vonSeggern will factor into the lineup.

Then there’s the large group of freshmen headed by Katelinn Wurm of Bradenton, Fla. Wurm is likely to play No. 2 behind Horn in the singles lineup. Wurm says Reckewey has helped her improve her game immensely since she arrived at Concordia this past fall.

“I didn’t notice a big transition just coming to college, but tennis-wise it was a big one,” Wurm said. “From playing in high school, we didn’t do as much as we do in college. I expected that. We didn’t exercise and do all that like we do here. I look at my play now and it’s 10 times better than I’ve ever played before. That was a big transition. I’ve learned so much in a short amount of time.”

Among the rookies, several others have the opportunity to see court time, including three Colorado natives in Anna Kenney (Sterling, Colo.), Hailey Lemos (Windsor, Colo.) and Kayla Smock (Sterling, Colo.). There are still plenty of unknowns, but Wurm says she’s noticed big gains over the past several months.

“It’s went up a lot,” Wurm said of the level of play in practice. “I remember the first practice when Coach goes, ‘For a few weeks we’re just going to be running. We’re not picking up a racket.’ To be honest, I never ran before in my life. I never did drills or anything. Going into these practices now second semester and getting to the point of matches, it’s a lot easier now. The level of play, the level of everything has gone up.”

On the men’s side, a quiet confidence is brewing. With the return of Morelia, Mexico, natives Javier Moreno and Patricio Esquivel along with reinforcements added in the offseason, the Bulldogs believe they will be much more competitive within the conference. Freshman Willy (Guillermo) Pardos of Pamplona, Spain, has risen to the No. 1 singles position while impressing Reckewey all offseason.

Pardos heads a list of seven freshmen. Another international recruit, Thomas Greeff of Pretoria, South Africa, has a shot to claim a spot in the top half of the singles lineup. He stands at 6-foot-4, just as freshman Gabe Poling of Chillicothe, Mo, does. Their additions have strengthened the entire lineup.

“We’ve brought in some very talented players,” Reckewey said. “Wily Pardos is a good player from Spain and we also have another guy, Thomas Greeff, from South Africa. We have some internationals coming in and a couple more local kids that are really going to have an opportunity to shine and show their stuff on the court. I think we’re going to be a stronger team because of it.”

Pardos, who is now fulfilling a dream of his in playing collegiate tennis in the United States, has gotten used to his new surroundings and has leaned upon the guidance of Esquivel, Moreno and junior Philip Yox – the team’s only three holdovers from 2015. That trio has helped bring along the large group of rookies.

“It’s a nice feeling because it would be really different if I was the only freshman on the team,” Pardos said. “It’s really worked out well. They are in the same situation. They didn’t know anyone coming in. The three upperclassmen – Javier, Patricio and Philip – have been great. They’ve talked about the previous seasons and what to expect. They’ve been really welcoming.”

Moreno and Esquivel appear set at the Nos. 2 and 4 singles positions, respectively. They were part of a squad that experienced rebuilding efforts in 2015 and now have two years of extensive experience. They should benefit from greater stability for a program that has had the same head coach for consecutive seasons for the first time since 2011-12.

While this year’s rosters are unusually youthful, Reckewey likes the direction things are moving.

“We have a lot of opportunity to improve,” Reckewey said. “We were kind of middle of the pack with both of those teams. I’m really confident about our teams this year. I think we have a lot of talent. We have hard-working players with positive attitudes. If we can come together we will have the opportunity to move up and I’d like to see us do that.”

Pardos isn’t yet familiar with the competition he’ll see in the GPAC, but then again, that same competition won’t know what to expect from Concordia. That could come as an advantage for the Bulldogs.

“Without any doubt our goal is to win the conference and go to nationals,” Pardos said. “I’m really motivated to do that and the team is pumped about it. I think we can make it happen. I don’t know the conference. I don’t know the level of the other teams. I do know we have options. They don’t know us because we are so new. I think we can do big things.”

Both Bulldog tennis teams will host Grand View University (Iowa) inside the Fieldhouse at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

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