Like most college seniors in the class of 2020, Luke Zoller had plans of moving on after graduation in the spring. But something unforeseen happened and there he was outlasting his opponent at the No. 1 singles spot this past Saturday (Sept. 12). This was not what Zoller had envisioned. Instead of hitting winners on the court, Zoller had an expectation of embarking upon law school at this moment in time.
That “something unforeseen” that changed the dynamics was the COVID-19 pandemic, of course. In a roundabout manner, the circumstances actually brought forward an opportunity that would not have otherwise existed.
“It was strange,” Zoller said of returning to action last week in an official match. “Knowing what happened last year, you have to cherish every match because you don’t know when it’s going to be your last. That’s the mindset I have going into this year. It was great to get back out there and get the win too.”
Last week’s victory over William Jewell College (Mo.) marked exactly six months since Zoller and his Concordia tennis teammates last stepped on the court against an opponent. Back on March 12, the native of Lenexa, Kan., thought he had just finished the final college match of his career. It was a bitter end. The Bulldogs had not even begun conference play.
There would be no proper sendoff – just a week of spring break action touring a host of NCAA Division III schools within the state of Iowa.
“It was really strange because we were mid-season,” Zoller said. “As a senior you want to give it your all because you know you only have a few months left for your athletic career. That’s really what I was trying to do. When we got the news that the season had been canceled it was really strange because we still had one more match that day. I went into that thinking it was my last match. You work for the end of the season and the GPAC tournament. The goal was to win the tournament and I think we had a good chance, so that was disappointing.”
That disappointment carried into the summer. Zoller had been aware of the NAIA ruling: all spring sport athletes would not be charged with a season of eligibility in 2019-20 due to the abrupt cancelation. Even so, Zoller tossed the possibilities around in his head. It wasn’t until late in the summer that Zoller made the final call to return to the team.
The De Soto High School alum had earned his degree in May. He’s now taking classes in the MBA program with an eye on completing his master’s in one year. Zoller says the encouragement he received from Head Coach David DeSimone and his teammates played a role in his decision.
“I’m glad I’m back,” Zoller said. “I think we have a chance (to win the GPAC) this year as well. It wasn’t an easy decision. There were several things I had to think about over the summer. At the end of the day, I’m glad I chose to come back and I think it was the right decision.”
DeSimone welcomed Zoller back with open arms. Said DeSimone, “Luke brings a high level of responsibility and maturity to our team. He’s a quiet leader, but he goes out of his way to lift up his teammates. I’m very excited that Luke decided to return to Concordia because he will finish his athletic career on his own terms. Luke has given so much to the Concordia Tennis program over the last four years, and I can truly say it is a better experience for everyone when Luke is around.”
An NAIA Scholar-Athlete and a CoSIDA Academic All-District honoree, Zoller seems to have a bright future ahead of him, law school or not. He has served as Vice President of the College of Republicans at Concordia. In that role, Zoller played a part in getting three-time World Series champion Curt Schilling to speak on campus last October.
Zoller hopes to show off a competitive zeal similar to that of Schilling as he takes up one of the top placements in the Bulldog lineup in 2020-21. And so the dream of being a key piece in the first-ever GPAC tennis championship at Concordia lives on for Zoller. Once the choice was made to keep on playing, Zoller focused on getting back into tennis shape after playing only here and there during the summer.
Throughout 2020-21 (the majority of the season occurs in the spring), Zoller will look to add to his 33 career singles wins. More significantly, he wants to continue forging unforgettable memories and bonds with his teammates.
Says Zoller, “It all came together and I thought, ‘I’d love to come back to Concordia to play another year.’ I have a lot of great friends here and great teammates. Hopefully the fifth time is the charm.”