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Feb. 2, 2015

Vikings tennis has high goals for 2015

By Kevin Alquist

The Cleveland State University men’s and women’s tennis teams were both ranked second in the Horizon League preseason poll and head coach Brian Etzkin said he believes both teams will make a championship run this season.

The men’s team started its season with a 4-3 victory over Butler University and a 6-1 battering of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The women’s team started 0-2 after losses to Northern Illinois University and Ohio State University.

Etzkin said he sees the possibility of a championship for his men’s team if the players continue to play the way that brought them to last year’s Horizon League Championship against Green Bay, where it lost 4-3.

“We have a good veteran team, and that’s a good thing because there aren’t as many swings on game day,” Etzkin said. “If we work hard and stay together, I like our chances. I’d love to get another ring before our roster turns over.”

Individually, the men have set the bar high after two individual accomplishments early in the season. Ali Shabib was the ninth Cleveland State tennis player to reach 50 wins and Joe VanMeter was chosen as the Horizon League Player of the Week on Jan. 20.

VanMeter, who played both matches near his hometown of Indianapolis, Ind., battled through extra nerves to finish with an individual record of 9-5 to help his team return home victorious, but he said the familiarity of playing against friends, family, and familiar opponents only helped him.

“Butler and IUPUI are close to my house so it’s exciting to play in front of people you know and get a victory,” VanMeter said.

His play granted him his first nomination as Player of the Week of his college career, but he remains focused on his team.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized as a top player for the week in such a tough league but I want to keep working hard for my team,” VanMeter said.

While Etzkin is proud of Shabib and VanMeter for their individual accomplishments, he knows that they focus more on winning another championship more than individual recognition. Both Shabib and VanMeter have helped Cleveland State win a Horizon League Championship.

“I expect them to have a great year,” Etzkin said. “It’s a nice milestone for them but I’m sure they’d rather win another championship.”

Etzkin said this season’s women’s team has the best chance to win the conference and go to the NCAA tournament that he’s seen in years.

Etzkin said dropping the first game at home to Illinois State was harder to take because it was a close match and the next opponent was the nationally-ranked Ohio State.

“We had not planned on losing that one,” Etzkin said. “It’s nothing to hang their head about but we just need to keep working hard.”

On Thursday, Jan. 29, the Vikings lost in a 7-0 drubbing by the Buckeyes.

Etzkin said the most difficult part of the schedule is upon them, with matches against DePaul University and Michigan State University.

The women’s roster is very diverse because all of the seven players come from different walks of life.
Four of the players are of European-descent, representing Austria, France, Poland and the Netherlands. Only one U.S.-born player is from Ohio, and two are from Texas and Florida.

Etzkin said that kind of diversity can be a blessing and a curse in a locker room, but in the case of this team, it is certainly the former.

“If anything, it’s positive and creates a good learning environment,” Etzkin said. “The credit goes to them because they have to be open to different ideas and ways of looking at things.”

Despite the various backgrounds of the players, Etzkin said all of the differences go away on game day.

“This team really comes together on game day to be Vikings and when they’re done they have friends here and all over the world,” he said.

Both teams will benefit from a new home court by next season when a new sports complex will be installed with funding from Medical Mutual.

The complex will be built in place of the Malaga Tennis Courts on the corner of East 21st Street and Chester Avenue. The addition will be a convenience to next year’s team and also serve as a recruiting advantage for the future because Cleveland State will become the only school in the conference with an on-campus facility.

“We’ll have a little less bonding time in the van but now we can be more efficient and spend our time studying and practicing instead of commuting,” Etzkin said.