By Rick Henneman
The 2016-2017 season was marked with impressive feats from both the men’s and women’s tennis teams at Youngstown State University.
The women’s team continued a miraculous streak with its fourth straight Horizon League postseason championship and its fourth straight NCAA Regional tournament appearance. The YSU women have won 11 of their last 12 Horizon League tournament matches dating back to 2013 and look to continue their success this season.
“There is a strong culture of winning and a confidence in this team that we can do it again regardless of how we do in the regular season,” YSU head coach Mickael Sopel said about keeping the streak alive. “We know that we have been there before and the girls have that knowledge that we can win.”
Five players from the Horizon League winning team last season returned to play for the Penguins this year.
For the guys, the team went 19-8 while setting the school record for most wins in a season. The Penguins also went 8-1 on the road, setting another school record. Sopel believes that last season’s success was a work in progress.
“Last year was the result of a few years of improvement,” he said. “It was the first step in getting to where we want to be eventually. What has to be learned is how to keep going and keep this dynamic.”
Thomas Rodrigues set an individual program record with 26 total wins and 18 victories in dual matches last season. Rodrigues will not be playing tennis for the Penguins this year but Sopel expects his team to fill in the gap left over.
“We had a young team last year and we had a lot of talent,” Sopel said. “We are expecting those guys to step up and keep getting better as individuals and as a team. We are still pretty strong and we will keep getting better from there.”
Nine of the ten athletes on the men’s team played for the Penguins last season.
YSU junior Yossi Dahan finished last season with a 9-6 overall record. Dahan said that the women’s success over the last few years has pushed him and his fellow teammates on the men’s team to do better.
“Seeing the girls doing so well on the court has definitely motivated us,” Dahan said. “We are trying to go in the same steps and follow them to winning championships.”
Dahan has been injured for the last ten months and said that his personal goal for this season is to just play tennis and focus on doing well in the classroom.
Something that makes both of these teams unique is where the players are from. South Africa to Romania and Israel to Brazil, every roster spot is filled by an athlete from outside the United States. While some would say that team chemistry would be a problem for the Penguins, Sopel says otherwise.
“The chemistry is unbelievable,” Sopel said. “It is the power of sports. It can unite people, unite countries and unite cultures. It is all about character and values in the end. The girls and guys are all great people and they blend very well together.”
The men’s team opened up its season last weekend at the River Forest Invitational in Chicago. Senior Matthew Kritzinger won three matches to win the No. 5 singles draw. Sopel added that his team performed up to his expectations.
The YSU women will take the court this weekend at the Akron Invitational, while the men will next play at the Toledo Invitational on Sept. 29.