With a new season set to begin, the Valparaiso University men’s tennis program will look to sustain its recent run of success that has seen the team advance to four consecutive league championship matches.
As veteran head coach Jim Daugherty makes out his lineup for Friday’s dual match opener at Match Point Tennis Club, he’ll have no shortage of experienced players to pick from. Every player on this year’s roster was on the team a year ago, and the 2017-18 squad had only one individual depart via graduation.
Junior Brandon Ancona (Belvidere, Ill. / Rockford Christian) and redshirt junior Brian Pecyna (Glen Ellyn, Ill. / Homeschooled) played the best tennis of their collegiate careers during the fall season. Pecyna’s fall was highlighted by the Purdue Fall Invitational, where he rapped off four straight wins to capture the Flight D Singles title. He finished the fall season with an 8-3 record, while Ancona stood at 8-2 and took a set from a Notre Dame player in the ITA Midwest Regional Main Draw.
“I was very pleased with our fall results, and I think Brandon and Brian were the two singles players who really shined for us,” Daugherty said. “They put in significant work in the offseason, so it’s no surprise they are excelling on the court. They have made better shot selections and have increased their levels of confidence. Those are two major factors that stand out for both of them. The effort is there from Brandon and Brian day in and day out, and over time their hard work is paying off.
Valpo will receive a significant boost from the return of senior Chad Kissell (Latrobe, Pa. / Greater Latrobe), who missed the fall season with an injury. Now, the three-time all-league first team honoree and 2015-16 Horizon League Freshman of the Year is poised to author the final chapter of his Valpo legacy this spring.
“Having Chad back is a major boost to team morale,” Daugherty said. “He’s not quite at 100 percent, but at the rate he’s going, he’ll be a major contributor this season. He’s working hard and making progress every day. He did an incredible job leading the way for us last year against the top schools on our schedule. It gives the entire team confidence knowing Chad can win against the best players in the conference.”
Junior Daniel Langston (Ponca City, Okla. / Ponca City) was the hero of Valpo’s dramatic 4-3 win over Denver to send the team to the Summit League final a year ago. He went 4-1 in league singles matches, the best Summit League record on the team with his only loss coming to league champion Drake. Langston notched straight-set victories over Illinois State, Oral Roberts, Omaha and South Dakota State in the regular season, part of a six-match winning streak as he went over a month between losses. Now he’s ready to build upon the success he enjoyed late last season.
“Daniel is a player who has really emerged in recent weeks,” Daugherty said. “His consistent effort day in and day out is really paying off and should be a boost to the team’s chances of winning.”
Kweisi Kenyatte (Detroit, Mich. / East English Village Preparatory) led the team in wins as a freshman with 20, while also going 15-10 in doubles action. He played in the top half of the lineup immediately as a rookie. Franklin Brozovich finished his sophomore season with a 10-5 singles mark, while Nick Marino (Northbrook, Ill. / Glenbrook North) and Gabriel Carvajal (Pembroke Pines, Fla. / Broward Virtual School [Florida Atlantic]) are back for their second seasons at Valpo.
In doubles, Ancona and Kenyatte went 10-2 as a combo during the fall slate. The team is still finding the right pieces to the puzzle for the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles slots.
Valpo will welcome Cardinal Stritch to Northwest Indiana for Friday’s 6 p.m. showdown, the first of five straight home matches at Match Point Tennis Club in Griffith. The team won’t hit the road until the Summit League opener on Feb. 17 in Denver.
“We have the talent on our roster to achieve a very successful season,” Daugherty said. “I believe we can do it, but we’re not there yet. There’s no room for error for us. We need everyone playing well day in and day out in order to win the Summit League.”