The Marquette men’s tennis team begins its spring campaign Saturday at Minnesota, kicking off a season of high expectations.
Coach Steve Rodecap said the Golden Eagles’ schedule is the toughest he’s seen in his eight years as head coach and could be the most challenging a Marquette team has ever faced. With that in mind, however, Rodecap sees the hard road ahead as an opportunity rather than a misfortune.
“This team has shown a lot of good things as far as dynamics, and I think they have some really good goals set for themselves,” Rodecap said. “I don’t give the guys their goals. They set them for themselves. We’re gonna have plenty of opportunities to be successful this year.”
Senior Drake Kakar said this season’s goals are to finish the season ranked nationally and to be strong contenders for the Big East title.
Spearheading a lineup of both seasoned veterans and raw talents will be sophomore Dan Mamalat and freshman standout Cameron Tehrani, both of whom led the Golden Eagles with a combined 17-7 singles record in the fall.
With the likes of Michigan State, DePaul and Drake looming ahead, senior Jonathan Schwerin believes that the Golden Eagles can climb to new heights after a solid fall showing.
“Based on our fall performances, I think we really have a competitive team this year,” Schwerin said. “I think we can go undefeated at home, and by doing so we can bring the program to a level it hasn’t reached before.”
Schwerin led the team’s senior class, posting a 6-4 singles record in the fall, while he and fellow senior Kakar spent most of their doubles play paired with freshmen Vukasin Teofanovic and David Packowitz.
The mixing of classes in doubles, Kakar said, allowed for seniors to fill the position of mentor for the Golden Eagles’ newer faces, a role that Kakar looks to continue to play this weekend and throughout the spring.
“I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself as a senior to be a leader for the team and help show the younger guys how it’s done,” Kakar said. “We pride ourselves in developing the young guys, and I’m pretty confident that what they see from the rest of the upperclassmen and during practice this week and in our first match over the weekend will give them a good idea of what it takes to be successful players for our team.”
Rodecap pointed to the fall performance of Teofanovic, who, despite posting a 4-7 singles record, came on strong towards the end of the season.
“Vukasin had a really good fall for us, especially towards the end,” Rodecap said. “I expect him to be a really strong force for us in the lineup and to have an impact in both singles and doubles right off the bat. At some point we are going to need those younger guys to step in and play matches for us.”
Both the biggest boost and biggest challenge to the team’s lineup, Rodecap said, will be the return of junior Jose Carlos Gutierrez Crowley after missing much of the fall with an injured back.
“Hopefully our biggest challenge is to see how Pepper (Gutierrez) comes back after two surgeries in a year and if he can get through a full season,” Rodecap said. ”I think we’re going to be really good.”