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Season preview: 2019 Concordia men's tennis

By Jake Knabel on Feb. 7, 2019 in Men's Tennis

Coach: Nikita Kostikov
2018 record: 8-11 overall, 1-4 GPAC (5th)
Key returners: Jeremy Berryman (So.); Geo De Moraes (Sr.); Thomas Greeff (Sr.); Tommy McNish (Sr.); Josh Miller (Jr.); Luke Zoller (Jr.).
Key loss: Caleb Lauby
Newcomers: Joseph Bindl; Isaac Howes; Jack Kitson; Octavio Velazquez.
2018 GPAC All-Conference: Jeremy Berryman (doubles); Luke Zoller (doubles; singles honorable mention).

Outlook
The opening weekend of the spring season has arrived for the Concordia University men’s tennis team. Coach Nikita Kostikov welcomed back the bulk of the 2017-18 roster while adding a trio of freshmen and a transfer to the mix. Upperclassmen like junior Luke Zoller expect this year’s squad to be the deepest that they have been a part of at Concordia.

Both Jeremey Berryman and Zoller were all-conference honorees last season for a Bulldog squad that went 8-11 overall. There’s a lot to prove for a program that has been attempting to gain traction within the conference.

“The competition will be really tight this year,” says Kostikov who got his first look at the GPAC during the spring of 2018. “I think a lot of us are about on the same level right now. In tennis you never know. One day it can go one way and another day it can go a completely opposite way. I’m hoping Concordia can be at the top.”

Kostikov is tasked with leading the men’s squad in his second season as a graduate assistant. He arrived in Seward prior to the start of the spring 2018 semester after having played collegiately at NCAA Division I Alcorn State University (Miss.). He oversees a men’s roster of 12 student-athletes while also working closely with fellow graduate assistant Javier Moreno (Concordia graduate) in guiding the women’s program.

Originally from Moscow, Russia, Kostikov is hungry to help the Bulldogs compete more closely with the top of the conference. They have not finished above .500 in league play since going 3-2 in 2014. Kostikov says he has gotten increasingly comfortable in his role.

“At the beginning it was challenging because we’re both still gaining experience,” Kostikov said of the coaching staff. “Before I’ve just coached clubs. Being a collegiate coach is a big responsibility with having a roster with that many people. Javy had a little advantage because he knew the culture here. In less than a month I think we found each other’s way. We work really well together.”

According to Kostikov, the final spots in the lineup are still being figured out. From a statistical standpoint, Zoller is the leading returner in terms of singles wins (10-9). Berryman (9-9), Thomas Greeff (9-10) and Josh Miller (8-9) were close behind. Each of them are back to provide depth. The hope is for each of them to take another step and make the top of the lineup more formidable.

The GPAC Invite that occurred back in the fall made for a preview of what could happen this spring. Senior Tommy McNish won a championship in Flight C of singles while freshman Isaac Howes (Flight B) and junior Alex Kaldahl (Flight C) were runners up in singles.

“It was really good experience, especially for the new guys,” Zoller said of the GPAC Invite. “It’s good to get the nerves out and get some good matches in. It shows us what the competition will be like in our conference this upcoming season. We had guys who did very well. Everyone was competing so it makes you optimistic about this year.”

The Bulldogs know they will have to get better results in singles play in order to challenge opposition like defending conference champion Midland. Concordia posted a collective GPAC singles record of 11-19 in 2018. Zoller enjoyed the most success, going 3-2 against conference foes. Also on the plus side, Berryman (12-7), Zoller (11-8) and Gio De Moraes (10-7) each performed well on the doubles court.

Now it’s time to find out what progress has been made in the offseason. The Bulldogs will be on the road this weekend and play Grand View University (Iowa) at 11 a.m. CST on Friday and then at Central College (Iowa) at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

“We’ve put more concentration on point play and getting us prepared for our competition,” Kostikov said. “We have worked a lot on doubles play and improving our endurance and consistency in singles. I see a lot of improvement. We’ve come a long way from August. It’s two completely different teams so I’m really proud of how we have worked together.”