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Senior group key to stability of rising men's tennis program

By Jacob Knabel on Mar. 9, 2022 in Men's Tennis

By Sam Firminhac, Athletic Communications

Last season was a season to remember for the Concordia Bulldogs Men’s Tennis team. For the first time in program history, the Bulldogs reached the GPAC Final. The team finished with a 10-6 record (5-1 GPAC), reaching five conference wins for the first time in over 10 years. Now with the 2022 season underway, a group of seniors who call themselves the “core-four” are out to top last year’s success. Jeremiah Berryman, Joe Bindl, Isaac Howes and Jack Kitson have their sights set on something the Men’s Tennis program has yet to accomplish – winning the GPAC Championship.

The group which has set a new precedent for the program has a combined seven All-GPAC honors. Last season in the No. 6 singles slot, Bindl had 11 wins and an All-GPAC honor. Issac Howes had a solid 5-1 conference record that also allowed him to be awarded All-GPAC. Meanwhile, Berryman garnered All-GPAC honors in the No. 2 singles slot.

Berryman is entering his fifth year in the program, while the other three will be in their fourth season. For some of them, their bond as teammates started even before they signed their letters of intent.

“During my senior year of high school, I had a hitting session with two other recruits: Joe Bindl and Jeremy Berryman (who was a freshman at the time),” Kitson said. “I really got along well with them so that was when I knew this was the place for me.”

Kitson wasn’t the only recruit who saw the potential bonds and friendships to be made at Concordia.

Said Bindl, “I met two guys on the team, Jeremiah Berryman and Luke Zoller, and they both were stand-up guys. I knew I could become close with both of them. I also slightly knew Jack Kitson was coming (to CUNE) and knew he was a great guy as well.”

Each season that this group has been together the program has improved. A large part of that continued growth is the groups’ ability to stick together through ups and downs. Kitson knows that this special group is playing for one another.

“We went from a middle of the pack team in the GPAC to the semifinal of the GPAC tournament, and eventually to the final last season,” Kitson said. “I give a lot of credit to our group for sticking together amidst the coaching turnover. We knew we were playing for each other regardless of who our coach was.”

With coaching changes, it can be hard for a program to establish a culture. This group has been the constant in an ever-evolving program, and they have taken it upon themselves to build up the culture of Bulldog Tennis.

“Lots of different coaching styles and practices have changed through the years,” Berryman said. “However, no matter who the coach is, the team has always stayed true to its core values. Lots of guys who love to play tennis and compete as a team.”

This season they are welcoming in first-year Head Coach Cam Long. While a new coach always brings adjustments and change to a program, the players are happy with the goals Coach Long has set for the program. Isaac Howes believes Long is the right fit for the program.

“It's definitely a transition but I have enjoyed it,” said Howes. “(Coach Long) is very relatable with the players and is team-oriented. He wants all of us to succeed and become better as the season goes on. Our main goal is to win the GPAC, and he has set standards to do just that.”

After coming so far as a program, a GPAC Championship would be the icing on the cake for this group of seniors. Winning the GPAC would punch Concordia’s ticket to the NAIA National Championship in Mobile, Ala. The Bulldogs have their sites set on the first national tournament berth in program history. With the senior leadership and experience mixed with the depth the team has, this might just be the year to do it.

Said Bindl, “Our depth and experience is going to be everything this year. If one of us isn't stepping up to the challenge and playing hard, we have three other guys to replace him. Our experience is great for the leadership factor and our depth will help us with the execution factor. In order for us to win, everyone has to be performing and that starts with our leaders and is executed through our depth.”

While individual success is easy to measure and can find its way into the spotlight, Concordia Tennis thinks of itself as a team more than anything. They know that it will take the whole team to reach the high goals they have set for themselves and each other. Support from teammates is where this program gets its energy and what they thrive off of.

“Our team is very supportive of one another, and that has been something I have noticed since coming here,” Bindl said. “The guys are great about cheering each other on. The energy we had as a team last season was awesome. I feel like we all brought competitive and positive energy to each match, and that atmosphere lifts the whole team up.”

Through rough seasons and coaching turnover, the ‘core-four’ have built the culture of Concordia Tennis. They’ve done it not by playing for themselves but by playing for one another. No matter the outcome they will still always have each other.

Said Bindl, “The guys on the team brought me to play tennis at Concordia and kept me here too.”