Head Coach: David DeSimone (10-10, 2nd season)
2019 record: 10-10 overall, 3-3 GPAC (4th)
Key returners: Jeremiah Berryman (Jr.); Isaac Howes (So.); Jack Kitson (So.); Josh Miller (Sr.); Luke Zoller (Sr.).
Key losses: Geo De Moraes; Thomas Greeff; Conner Works.
Key Newcomers: Gregor Lainer; Eduardo Rojas; Juan Rabellino.
2019 GPAC All-Conference: Jeremy Berryman (doubles; singles honorable mention); Thomas Greeff (singles/doubles); Isaac Howes (singles); Jack Kitson (singles; doubles honorable mention); Conner Works (singles honorable mention); Lucas Zoller (singles; doubles honorable mention).
Plenty of familiar faces return for a Concordia University men’s tennis program that reached the semifinals of the 2019 GPAC tournament. Most recognizable among those faces is senior Luke Zoller, who has played in 59 singles matches during his time as a Bulldog. He will be counted upon to lead a squad that seems to have greater continuity now with head coach David DeSimone entering his second season at the helm of the program.
In the GPAC preseason ranking, Concordia checked in at No. 4 (where it finished last spring) behind Midland, Doane and Hastings. Zoller and company are aspiring to compete closely with each of those three conference rivals. All three shared the GPAC regular-season title in 2019.
“It will come down to decision making,” DeSimone said. “That’s kind of what I learned last year. We have all the shots. Everyone has the skills and capabilities to put it together on any given day. It’s just being patient and willing enough to wait for that opportunity in each point or each match. It’ll come down to decision making so that’s what we’ve spent a lot of time working on. Hopefully it will show up in the results later in the season.”
Zoller is far from the only experienced member of the roster. Junior Jeremiah Berryman (19 career singles wins) has been a fixture the past two years while sophomores such as Joe Bindl, Isaac Howes and Jack Kitson all got acclimated to the college game last season. Howes paced the team with 13 singles wins while splitting time between the Nos. 3 and 4 positions. On the flip side, the Bulldogs did graduate some dependable veterans such as last year’s No. 1 player, Thomas Greeff.
Back in the fall, Concordia took on NCAA Division II William Jewell College (Mo.) in a countable match. In that instance, freshman Eduardo Rojas cracked the singles and doubles lineups. He’s a potential impact newcomer – as are players like junior Gregor Lainer and freshman Juan Rabellino. The depth of the roster is shaping up well.
“This year I think we have a good chance of taking it all the way,” Zoller said. “The guys seem all-in. We all want the same thing – to win the GPAC title. In practice I’ve seen a commitment that I haven’t seen here before. I’m excited because I think we have what it takes.”
Last year’s Bulldogs were .500 both overall and within conference, meaning plenty of ups and downs. The program has never won a GPAC title and has fallen short of serious contention in most recent years. Concordia routinely sharpens itself against opponents from not only the NAIA, but also the NCAA Division II and III levels. Perhaps the experience against that competition will pay off this spring.
“We have a lot of young guys still growing and maturing on the court,” DeSimone said. “I’ll be excited to see how they transition and where their games take them this season. Isaac Howes, Jack Kitson and Joe Bindle are in that mix. I’m looking for all three guys to step up and make an impact this year, both in terms of their play and also supporting each other and pushing each other.”
Confidence appears to be building within the program. Says Zoller, “Every match you know you’re going to have to dig deep. The biggest part is just being confident every time you step on the court and not doubting yourself.”
The opportunity to be the first GPAC champion in school history is one that drives Zoller and his teammates, although Zoller says he’ll be proud as long as everyone competes for every point of every match.
“It’s always the goal to be playing our best tennis at the end of the season through conference play and the conference tournament,” DeSimone said. “We discussed that we want to be playing our best tennis and making our best decisions at that time. We know that if that happens – and we’re doing all the little things – the results will follow.”
The Bulldogs are getting set to host Grand View University (Iowa) inside the Fieldhouse on Saturday. The men’s match is slated to get started at 3 p.m. CT.