After having the entire conference season wiped out in 2020, the Concordia University Tennis programs focused their energy on being prepared once this past fall rolled around. By the end of the spring of 2021, both the men’s and women’s teams had accomplished feats never before achieved in their programs’ histories. The Bulldogs have flirted with national tournament appearances while becoming major players within the GPAC.
Over three seasons as head coach (one shortened due to COVID-19), David DeSimone has won a combined 57 matches between the men’s and women’s teams. He’s shown an ability to develop players as they progress through the program.
“We had a great year,” DeSimone said back in early May. “There were definitely ups and downs as you could expect in a long season. I’m so proud of our teams. I’m so proud of our student-athletes for the way they competed and came together and really played their best tennis at the end of the year. We were able to grow as a team and that’s what it’s all about. The success on court is a bonus and extra for us.”
This may have been the best season ever for Concordia Tennis when factoring in the collective results of the men and women. Both teams jumped out to 5-0 GPAC records with the women sharing the GPAC regular season title and the men advancing to the GPAC tournament championship match. Never before had the women’s program won a conference title and never before had the men’s program advanced to the GPAC final. Both teams finished with exactly 10 overall wins in 2021.
The success of the two programs has had a lot to do with the development of quality players throughout the lineup. Few opponents within the GPAC have been able to match the Bulldogs one through six. Consider this: the Concordia men carried a season record of 30-12 in the Nos. 4-6 singles spots while the women went 23-8 over the Nos. 5 and 6 positions. The women won three GPAC matches by 4-3 scores. In other words, it took a team effort.
“We had great depth and great leadership,” DeSimone said. “If one person wasn’t having their day, we could count on it from someone else. That was awesome to see. The way our seniors led in their own way was really fun to be a part of. We accomplished a lot of awesome and amazing things this year. All their hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. It was the work that we put in day-in, day-out in practice that allowed us to grow. Those seniors and juniors stepped up and lead and helped show the freshmen and sophomores what it means to be part of the Concordia Tennis team and what it will take to reach our goals.”
A combined 12 Bulldogs wound up earning some form of all-conference recognition. Claudia Miranda Viera (6-1 singles; 6-1 doubles vs. GPAC) and Sofia Morales (5-2 singles; 7-0 doubles vs. GPAC) led the way for the women as All-GPAC performers in singles and doubles. On the men’s side, Joseph Bindl put together an 11-2 singles record with one of his 11 victories clinching a tight home win over Doane. Luke Zoller returned to the program for a fifth year and put up seven singles wins while playing in several different spots in the lineup.
For the women, a 6-1 loss to Doane on April 20 prevented them from an outright GPAC title. However, they bounced back a week later with a 4-3 win at Midland that clinched a share of the conference championship. On April 30 at the GPAC tournament, the men got past Doane in the semifinals, 4-2, representing a momentous win for the program. The next day, the Bulldogs fell to a strong Midland squad that swept conference regular season and postseason titles.
In late April, Concordia celebrated a group of seniors that featured Zoller and Octavio Velazquez on the men’s side and Ansley Gates, Miranda Viera and Katie Seja on the women’s side. Each of them had a hand in lifting up their respective programs. The Bulldog women’s seniors were also part of a 2019 squad that broke a school record for wins in a season (15) and advanced to the GPAC tournament final, dropping a 5-4 decision to Hastings.
The bar has been raised for both programs. The hunt for GPAC titles and the first-ever appearances at the national championships in Mobile, Ala., will continue.
Said DeSimone, “We’re excited for next year. We’re still taking some time to soak up all that this season has meant and really reflect on it. We are looking forward to next year. We have a lot of returners coming back for our men and a decent number of returners for our women. It will be a fun year where we can continue to build on all the good stuff we’ve put together this year. I’ve talked a lot to those returners about setting the standard and leading, especially with a handful of first-year players coming in. We need to show them all what it’s going to take to get back to where we were this year and build on the success we’ve had.”