Head Coach: Cam Long (1st season)
2021 record: 10-6 overall, 5-1 GPAC (2nd); GPAC tournament runner up
Key returners: Jeremiah Berryman (Sr.); Joseph Bindl (Jr.); Isaac Howes (Jr.); Jack Kitson (Jr.); Juan Rabellino (So.); Eduardo Rojas (So.).
Key losses: Gregor Lainer; Luke Zoller.
Key Newcomer: Eduardo Luzzi.
2021 GPAC All-Conference: Jeremiah Berryman (singles, HM doubles); Joe Bindl (singles); Isaac Howes (singles); Gregor Lainer (doubles); Eduardo Rojas (doubles, HM singles); Luke Zoller (HM singles/doubles).
There may be a new head coach on board, but there is plenty of familiarity inside the Concordia University Men’s Tennis program. In his first experience as a head coach, Cam Long has the luxury of leaning upon a veteran lineup that returns four players who earned some form of all-conference recognition in 2021. A year after appearing in the GPAC tournament championship match, the Bulldogs landed at No. 2 in the 2022 GPAC preseason rating.
Naturally, Concordia expects to be one of the GPAC’s top teams again this spring. The 2021 edition broke new ground for the program by reaching the conference postseason final and started out GPAC play at 5-0. Midland was the foe that stood in the way of the Bulldogs reaching the national tournament. Long finds himself in a good situation with the team he has inherited.
Said Long, “Having that maturity is really helpful for me coming in as a first-year coach. Having guys who have been around for a long time has been super helpful. We have a lot of underclassmen too. We have three freshmen who can make an impact. They have four seniors to look up to. They really drive the personality on the team. They like to joke around and have fun a lot in practice. The other day they started calling themselves the ‘core four.’ I don’t really know what that means, but they just like to have fun and I think the underclassmen are seeing that. They can have fun and work really hard at the same time. They’ve shown great leadership so far.”
A Dubuque, Iowa, native, Long brings an NCAA Division III background to Seward. The Luther College alum previously served as the assistant coach at D-III Centre College in Dansville, Ky. Long already has a good feel for the strengths and weaknesses of the roster having gone through a short fall season and a demanding preseason practice plan since the second semester began. Back in the fall, Concordia competed in two tournaments and went up against two strong opponents that should help prepare it for what is to come.
The group that referred to itself as the “core four” includes Jeremiah Berryman, Joe Bindl, Isaac Howes and Jack Kitson. Berryman is in his fifth year in the program while the other three have each been regulars in the lineup since arriving in the fall of 2018. Bindl paced last season’s team with 11 singles wins. Both Bindl and Howes went 5-1 in GPAC singles matches in 2021. On the other hand, the Bulldogs will have to replace Gregor Lainer, who held down the No. 1 spot in last season's lineup.
Concordia has a right to feel confident. Says Bindl, “There’s a sense of urgency with the leadership of this team. We’re just showing the younger guys how to act and what we stand for as a program. We’re a really supportive team. These younger guys came in and were already really supportive. That shows the team atmosphere that we have. That starts with the leaders of the group. The returning guys have just been really good leaders.”
The Bulldogs also bring back the likes of Juan Rabellino and Eduardo Rojas. As far as doubles groups go, Kitson and Rojas played together the most having partnered in nine matches last season. Back in the fall, Rojas paired up with freshman Eduardo Luzzi at the No. 1 spot. How things come together in double play could decide whether Concordia gets over the hump in its pursuit of winning a conference championship.
“We know we’re right there and we need to start thinking that we’re going to win rather than just competing to keep it close,” Long said. “Our mindset needs to be, ‘we’re going to win today.’ From a technical standpoint, we want to improve in doubles play especially. The doubles point is a big point. When you’re that close to other teams, there are probably going to be matches where each team wins three out of the six singles. The big thing for me is figuring out a doubles lineup that’s going to win two out of three matches.”
Two of the more thrilling moments last season included the 4-3 home win over Doane and then another victory over Doane that came in the GPAC semifinals. The campaign came to a close with a 4-0 loss to Midland in the conference championship. With 11 nonconference matches on the table prior to the start of league play this spring, the Bulldogs will have plenty of opportunities to improve before seeing the likes of Doane and Midland once again.
Said Bindl, “I’m looking forward to one last season with the guys I’ve made relationships with these past four years. We have about 20 matches so that’s going to be really nice. I’m just hoping to come out strong with my final year of tennis here and continually build relationships with the guys. Hopefully we can go out strong in Alabama.”
Of course Mobile, Ala., is the site of the national tournament for tennis. Concordia isn’t afraid to mention that its goal this season is to win the conference and become the first team in the program’s history to reach the national stage.
“When you lose in the conference championship match, naturally the next year the goal is to win the championship,” Long said. “That’s our goal. It’s okay for me to say it because it’s obvious – and they know it. That’s something we’re working towards. At the same time, we don’t need to worry about any other team specifically. Those teams that were at the top of the conference like Midland and Doane – we don’t need to worry about them. We need to worry about ourselves and get better.”
The season will resume when Colorado College makes a visit to Seward on Feb. 19. The first GPAC match is slated for March 26 with a match at Morningside.