By Jamison Schroeder
Cleveland State University men’s tennis began the spring portion of the schedule with a 1-1 start. After a tough loss to University of Kentucky, they would dominate the University of Toledo. The team is coming off of back to back Horizon League Championships, winning the conference tournament the past two seasons. The Vikings return three players that were named to All-Horizon League teams in senior Nico Mostardi and juniors Luke Phillips and Matt Terry.
They aren’t the only big returners for the team, as head coach Brian Etzkin returns for his 18th season to lead the green and white. Etzkin is the all-time winningest coach in Cleveland State tennis history and a four time Horizon League Coach of the Year, winning the award last year for the first time since 2010. Mostardi and freshman Kade Mindry held high opinions for their veteran coach.
“Having someone who knows the game of tennis as well as Coach Etzkin does on the court helps a lot and is a huge relief in tight moments,” Mostardi said.
“It’s also really admirable how Coach Etzkin can shift between being a coach and being a friend on and off the court,” Mindry added.
Despite suffering a 7-0 loss to Kentucky, the Vikings were able to bounce back against Toledo in their first home match of the semester. After earning the doubles point, Cleveland State won four of the six singles matchups, with Mostardi, Terry, Phillips and sophomore Clark Bilinovich earning wins. Mindry and senior Jack Santilli fought hard, but both would lose tightly contested three-set matches.
After the first week of games, the team was able to sweep the weekly conference awards. Mostardi continued his winning ways as he was named the conference Player of the Week for his impressive play against Toledo and Kentucky. He is currently ranked 65th in the Oracle ITA National Singles ranking, a great feat that only adds to the success of his collegiate career. He is coming up on 80 career wins, currently at 77 with plenty of season left to become only the seventh Viking in program history to reach that milestone.
While the individual ranking is nice, Mostardi isn’t focused on those individual milestones. He is focused on helping the team win its third consecutive conference championship.
“We are out here to win as a team,” Mostardi said. “Our only goal is for a conference championship; all the individual stuff is a bonus.”
While Mostardi is the senior leader for the team, Mindry began his collegiate career with a 6-4 doubles win with Terry in the match against Kentucky. The duo won the Doubles Team of the Week honors thanks to the win against the Wildcats.
An addition to the Vikings for the spring season, Mindry is enjoying the environment and working with his new teammates.
“The atmosphere was unreal and really special,” Mindry said. “All of us that were there were in it together, and although it can be scary, if you embrace it, it is amazing.”
The men’s team continued its campaign with a matchup against Penn State University on Jan. 30. The Vikings started off strong, winning the doubles point to put Cleveland State up 1-0. Mostardi put the team up 2-0 with a singles win, putting him two wins away from the 80 win mark. Bilinovich gave the Vikings a commanding 3-0 lead by winning his match. However, the momentum took a turn for the worse. Penn State went on to win four consecutive matches to make the final score a 4-3 loss for the Vikings.
The team wouldn’t have time to mope over the loss, as they returned to the Medical Mutual Tennis Pavilion two days later to take on Butler University and St. Francis University. The team took the disappointment of the loss to the Nittany Lions and used that as fuel to surge past both Butler and St. Francis.
After taking the doubles point and Mostardi winning his singles match to put the Vikings up 2-0, Butler won the next two singles matches to tie the score 2-2. After a Terry win and another Bulldog win, it came down to Bilinovich to finish the job for Cleveland State. It took all three sets, but the sophomore was able to get the job done, winning the match for the green and white 4-3. Cleveland State wouldn’t let St. Francis hang around as they trounced the Red Flash 6-1.