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Season Preview: 2021 Concordia Men's Tennis

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 10, 2021 in Men's Tennis

Head Coach: David DeSimone (16-14, 3rd season)
2020 Record: 6-4 overall, 0-0 GPAC (season cut short due to COVID-19)
Key Returners: Jeremy Berryman (Jr.); Joseph Bindl (So.); Isaac Howes (So.); Jack Kitson (So.); Juan Rabellino (Fr.); Eduardo Rojas (Fr.); Luke Zoller (Sr.).
Key Loss: Josh Miller.
Key Newcomer: Luke Johnson.
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).
*No All-GPAC team announced in 2020

It’s been a long time coming for Concordia University Men’s Tennis. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has not played in an official GPAC regular-season tennis match since April 12, 2019. On the plus side, the Bulldogs were able to return to the court this past fall for one nonconference dual meet and a pair of individual tournaments.

Third-year Head Coach David DeSimone’s squad picked up a 4-3 victory over William Jewell College (Mo.) back in September. That result was an early sign of progress, considering that same opponent defeated Concordia, 7-0, in the fall of 2019.

“It was exciting for us, a good way to start our year and to start our season,” DeSimone said. “I was impressed by our depth in the fall. I’ll be the first to tell you right now we do not have one huge standout player. We are going to be solid throughout our whole lineup. We’re going to win some good matches that way, having good players at each and every spot.”

Indeed, depth figures to be a strength for a Bulldog squad that will have experience up and down its lineup. Lenexa, Kan., native Luke Zoller has returned for his fifth year inside the program. Zoller played at the No. 1 singles position in the match with William Jewell. Teammates Jeremy Berryman, Joseph Bindl, Isaac Howes, Jack Kitson, Juan Rabellino and Eduardo Rojas also possess extensive collegiate experience.

From a singles records perspective, Howes (6-4), Rabellino (4-1) and Rojas (6-4) enjoyed the most success in 2020. The combo of Kitson and Rojas posted a 5-1 record while pairing up at the No. 2 doubles position. The veteran Zoller has won 33 singles matches over his college career.

Says Kitson, “The depth one through eight is about equal. Like five through eight is the same quality of players – and that is going to be so helpful this year. If one guy goes out, we have another one ready to go next match. I am kind of banking on our depth and experience to help us out.”

DeSimone expects to have a squad that translates that experience into smart tennis on the court. In any given match, DeSimone could fill his lineup with five players who are in at least their third year within the program. DeSimone also welcomed in freshman Luke Johnson from Kansas City. That quality roster depth is one of the reasons why Concordia was placed as a solid No. 3 in the GPAC preseason ranking (behind Midland and Doane).

“They have certainly been valuable members of our squad over the past few years,” DeSimone said of the veteran core. “We’re seeing them continue to grow and mature in their tennis games. To give you an example, Bindl he is honestly playing some of the best tennis in his life right now. He put in some good work over summer and winter break. I think a big thing for a lot of our players is owning their game. Not trying to be anyone that they are not. Not trying to hit big serves when they just need to spin it in a little bit or go for an aggressive forehand when they’re ten feet behind the baseline. Having a little bit better tennis IQ. Being smart tennis players and really developing their mature games.”

As one of four Bulldogs to compete at the ITA Regional Tournament in the fall, Howes reached the finals of the consolation singles bracket. At the GPAC individual tournament a week earlier, both Bindl (flight C singles) and Octavio Velazquez (flight D) won championships. Those were just some of the highlights that signaled somewhat of a return to normal.

Concordia Men’s Tennis aims to seize this opportunity. The program is still looking to take that next step and become a serious challenger for a GPAC title. In recent seasons, the Bulldogs have been unable to advance past the conference tournament semifinals. Perhaps this year will be different. Says Kitson, “I think we are better than third in this conference. We really want to be in that Saturday championship match. I definitely think we have the depth, talent and experience to do it.”

Concordia believes the gap is closing between it and the top teams in the league. During the 2019 season, when a conference season was last played, Doane, Hastings and Midland each tied for the GPAC regular-season title. The Bulldogs have the makings to be in that mix in a league full of parity.

“Our expectations for both teams this year are the same as every year,” DeSimone said. “To be playing our best tennis at the end of the season when it really matters most, both conference regular season and postseason tournament. If we are putting in the work and getting some good quality matches in our nonconference part of the season, we’ll be able to make a good push for a conference title. That is the goal each year.”

The 2020-21 season is slated to pick back up on Saturday, Feb. 20 with a match at Sterling College in Hutchison, Kan. If things go as planned, Concordia will make its first home appearance of the spring on March 12.