By Ben Hercik
Last year, the Cleveland State University men’s tennis team finished the season as Horizon League Champions for the second year in a row. This was the seventh championship for the school in the past 12 seasons and their 10th appearance in the finals in the same timespan. This, as head coach Brian Etzkan stated, has helped raise the team’s confidence levels in recent years.
“Each year, we’ve gotten more confident as a team, and the individuals have gotten more confident, and we’ve kind of set the bar high. We’ve set high expectations,” Etzkan said. “It’s set new expectations for us which is pushing us and giving us more confidence on the court.”
This confidence was on display as the Vikings got the beginning of their long season underway at the Notre Dame Invitational from Sept. 20-22. Both senior Nico Mostardi and junior Luke Phillips went 3-1 over the three-day stretch, but it was junior Matthew Terry who had the best showing of the tournament. During the three-day stretch, Terry only dropped two sets on his way to a 4-0 singles record. Terry was also undefeated on the doubles side as he and partner sophomore Raul Teichmann went 3-0. With a combined record of 7-0, Terry earned MVP honors of the tournament. Terry had low expectations for the tournament but credits his work in the summer for his success.
“I had a really great summer actually coming into the year, so I was really happy that I was able to extend my summer success into the school year,” Terry said. “I didn’t really expect much from the tournament, and to have an outcome like that just gives me the confidence going into the bigger tournaments this fall.”
After going 3-1 at the Notre Dame Invitational, Mostardi headed to California to participate in the Oracle ITA Masters having earned an invitation to the tournament after being named Horizon League Player of the Year last season. Mostardi had a big challenge ahead of him, drawing the number 44 ranked player in the country in Sven Lah from Baylor University. Mostardi was up to the challenge, beating Lah in straight sets 7-5, 7-5 to advance to the second round. Despite suffering a loss in that round, the victory over the ranked opponent gave Mostardi confidence with the long season ahead.
“It puts a lot of confidence in my head,” Mostardi said. “I know I can go out and play with just about anyone in the country after matches like that, so even the times when you’re struggling a bit, you know it’s still there.”
During the spring season last semester, Mostardi and his doubles partner, Benjamin Slade, earned a spot in the Oracle/ITA national doubles ranking, which was the first time in school history that a doubles pair had been ranked. Mostardi has also found success in singles action, having amassed 74 wins in his career and currently sitting at seventh on the Cleveland State All Time Singles win list. Mostardi currently sits 25 wins away from the school record of 99 wins, currently held by Phil Orno. While Mostardi is aware of it, he isn’t chasing the record.
“You see it and noticed it, I see it and noticed it, it’s right there and I have a chance to do it,” Mostardi said. “It would be fantastic to go down as the winningest of all time, but that’s just one of those accolades at the back that’s not as important. We’re here to represent the team and the school together, not as individuals.”
The trio of Mostardi, Terry and Phillips traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to compete in the ITA Men’s All-American tournament. Mostardi earned a spot in the qualifying draw, while both Terry and Phillips took part in the pre qualifying draw. In order for Terry and Phillips to join Mostardi in the qualifying draw, they need to win four matches.
Phillips was unable to reach that mark, as he went 2-1 in the pre qualifying tournament. He started his tournament with a win over Rafa Gonzalez of San Diego State University in straight sets 6-4, 6-3 in the first round, and barnburner of a match against Franco Ribero of Texas Tech University in the second round, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-6(1) to advance to the semifinals. In the semis, he fell to Jannik Giesse of Old Dominion University 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(1)
Terry has had to rally from being down a set in both matches, but still managed to pick up wins over Christopher Frazen of Baylor 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the first round, and Jose Dominguz Alonso from the University of Arkansas 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the second round. He won in the semifinals over Jamie Fraser of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in straight gets 6-3,6-3. In the finals of his pre qualifier, Terry was able to pull out the win over Tim Seibert of Ohio State University 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 to advance to the qualifying draw.