Fun-loving squad returns with sights set on NCAAs

After narrowly missing the NCAA tournament a season ago, a stronger men’s tennis squad returns with its sights set on the postseason.

By Kat Jacobsen

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Talent. Focus. Intensity.

These are the three words that describe the men of Chicago tennis. Considering the four new players as well as the proven ability of third-year Will Zhang, the men’s team is ready to make an impact on Division-III tennis.

They begin the 2010 season poised, at number 16 in the preseason Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Rankings.

Chicago is also represented in the individual rankings by Zhang, the nation’s 12th-ranked singles player. Justifying his being named ITA Player to Watch at the end of last season, he followed up an All-American title in spring by posting a 5–1 record in the fall, including advancing to the semifinals of the singles competition at the ITA Central Regional Championship.

“I’m definitely motivated by my ITA ranking, and I’m looking to build on my last season and go deeper in the NCAA tournament this year,” Zhang said.

As the Maroons look to compete amongst the nation’s strongest teams, staying injury-free will be crucial.

“Luckily we have a deep team that can fill any gaps that may arise,” fourth-year Garrett Brinker said.

To avoid such need, head coach Marty Perry has been conditioning the team for the season in order to build strength and sharpen their footwork.

“We can hit all day, but without strength training, our game cannot improve,” third-year Paul Namkoong said. “I’ve been focusing on increasing my max on the bench press, which directly correlates to how well I can play on the court. It helps with serving, smash-away forehands, and intimidation, which is key.”

The team ranking is nice to get, but the players realize they still have to go out and prove that they are as good as number 16 or better. They have already succeeded in starting the year ahead of where they finished last season by moving up from last year’s finish at 17th. Now, they need get to NCAAs.

The new players are ready to do their part. Making his debut as a Maroon is first-year Dillon Klincke, a native of Los Angeles, CA.

“Since I’m part of a team now, I can’t allow myself to lose focus and make careless mistakes. There is more on the line now,” he said. “We have four new players, myself included, so we expect to be a much stronger team this year. The goal would be to make a strong run at the NCAA at the end of the season.”

Other new players include first-year Harrison Abrams as well as William-and-Mary transfer third-year Kunal Pawa. The Maroons also welcome second-year transfer Jonathan Alexander from Emory, the second-ranked team by the ITA in Division-III men’s tennis.

The depth of the team has driven practice to be more competitive and challenging as well as valuable preparation for meets.

The men’s team is confident that the word “fun” completes the picture of who they are. Brinker said, “We’re deep in both doubles and singles, we have a good combination of speed and size, but most importantly we’re funny. Our sense of humor could possibly be our greatest strength.”

The team’s camaraderie is evident. Whether they’re taking jabs at Zhang’s innovative junk-food diet or boasting about their teammates’ stand-up comedy gigs, this team is together.

“The team’s strengths are our post-point antics, our ability to intimidate our opponents, and many members can ‘Jerk’ and ‘C-Walk.’ This says a lot about our team. We carried a very large presence onto the court last year, and we hope to do the same this season,” Namkoong said.

The laid-back atmosphere has made the transition to Chicago easier for Klincke, who is seeing tennis from a team perspective for the first time.

“The team has a great dynamic,” said Klincke, who played individually in high school. “We all get along really well, not just on the court, but many of us are friends and hang out off of the court. I have tremendous respect for our senior captains Garrett Brinker and Steve Saltarelli. They are fantastic players and really fun teammates.”

With the good times a given, the team members know they need to use their potential this year and make a big play for NCAAs.

“This is definitely the best team that we’ve had in the four years I’ve been here,” Brinker said.

The players are eager to demonstrate their determination and skills.

“The key this year is to really put together our talent in the big-match situations,” Zhang said.

The men’s opener on January 16 against DePaul will be played at the Lakeshore Athletic Club at 5 p.m.