Head Coach: David DeSimone (21-9, 3rd season)
2020 Record: 6-3 overall, 0-0 GPAC (season cut short due to COVID-19)
Key Returners: Tara Ferrel (Fr.); Ansley Gates (Jr.); Claudia Miranda Viera (Jr.).
Key Losses: Angela Bell; Allison Marshall; Lindee Schultz; Kirsten Wagner.
Key Newcomers: Sofia Morales; Julia Phillips.
2019 GPAC All-Conference: David DeSimone (coach of the year); Angela Bell (singles); Marlene Maier (singles/doubles); Allison Marshall (singles; doubles honorable mention); Claudia Miranda Viera (singles/doubles); Kirsten Wagner (singles; doubles honorable mention); Katelinn Wurm (singles honorable mention).
*No All-GPAC team announced in 2020
The last time the Concordia University Women’s Tennis program finished out a full season, it nearly won the 2019 GPAC tournament title. The near miss was evidence of a program on the rise, one that can realistically dream of making a run to a national tournament appearance. During the brief fall portion of this 2020-21 season, the Bulldogs earned a win over William Jewell College (Mo.) and put forth a series of impressive outings in two individual tournaments.
Now in his third season as Head Coach, David DeSimone leads a program that has frequently placed in the top three or four of the GPAC in recent seasons. With a key addition near the top of the lineup, Concordia may be set up for another postseason run.
“We have a veteran group,” DeSimone said. “They have played a lot of matches and are really growing their games and maturing as tennis players. It really helps those younger players out. Having some matches (in the fall) was important and beneficial for us. The individual tournaments are great for getting matches. We know what we need to work on with each individual player. That is really the next step for us – owning our individual games and taking the next step that way.”
A past all-conference performer, Claudia Miranda Viera played in the top spot of the lineup in the 5-2 win over William Jewell. Miranda Viera, Tara Ferrel and Ansley Gates have been regulars since at least last season. In 2020 singles matches, Ferrel went 5-2 while Gates posted a record of 4-2. As a team, the Bulldogs are used to winning, having gone 22-9 in dual meets since the start of the 2018-19 season.
A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Sofia Morales will immediately help Concordia replace some of the significant roster departures, such as Allison Marshall and Kirsten Wagner. Morales and Miranda Viera collaborated on an upset of the No. 6 seed in the doubles competition of the ITA Regional Championships in the fall. Morales also has a singles win under her belt from the William Jewell match.
“She is forming herself to be one of the top players in our conference,” DeSimone said. “I think she will compete with some of the top players in our region. She has a little more growth in her to really take it to that next level and own her game. She has to develop those skills she has and make sure she is utilizing the right shot at the right time. I think if she can do that as she gets a few more matches under her belt. She will be a tough at any spot in the lineup.”
During that special 2019 campaign that saw them reach the GPAC championship match, the Bulldogs also set a new program standard for wins in a season with 15. This current team landed at No. 3 in the GPAC preseason ranking behind Doane and College of Saint Mary. As a member of the 2019 squad, Gates saw firsthand what it took to reach the brink of a conference championship.
“We realized how close we actually are,” Gates said. “And in previous years we did not get that far. So we knew that we were that close, and we need to be the team that wants it more. I would not want to be in Coach’s position (in terms of setting a lineup). I feel like when it comes to the bottom part of the lineup, it can go anywhere.”
In the matchup with William Jewell, Morales was the only newcomer to crack the lineup, which included Miranda Viera, Gates, Katie Seja, Luisa Esquivel and Madi Smith (Katy Krejci also played at No. 2 doubles). As a credit to William Jewell, the Cardinals managed to knock off Morales and Miranda Viera at the No. 1 doubles slot. That combo figures to be successful against conference foes.
In the GPAC individual bracket-style event that took place back on Sept. 18-19, Concordia got an early look at how it stacks up versus GPAC opponents. The most significant highlights included tournament championships from Miranda Viera (B flight singles), Seja (C flight singles), Julia Phillips (D flight singles) and Gates/Seja (B flight doubles). Such results were a clear sign of the team’s depth.
Gates wasn’t afraid to mention “GPAC champs” as an aspiration for this spring. The Bulldogs will have to overcome a perennially strong program like Hastings and preseason favorite Doane, another team on the rise.
“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.