Key players return to tennis team

Tim Downer

Coming off a 2003 season, where his team went undefeated in Great Lakes Valley Conference play and won its first conference championship since 1990, Northern Kentucky University men’s tennis Coach Geoff Crawford has reason to be excited about the upcoming season.

However, the Norse will face tough competition from other GLVC foes.

In the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Regional Poll, the University of Indianapolis is ranked eighth, the University of Missouri-St. Louis is ranked sixth, and the University of Southern Indiana is third.

“The team has a lot of potential,” Crawford said.

“It’s as strong or stronger than last year’s team, but the competition in the conference and in the region has also gotten significantly stronger. It’s going to be a very interesting year for us.”

Ranked fourth in the ITA’s Regional Poll, the Norse will be led in singles play by three players who made last season’s All-Conference Team.

Senior Amine Benjelloun is a team leader both on and off the court, according to Crawford.

“He’s been a major stalwart for us, playing number one for us since he came here,” Crawford said.

“He keeps the team in line and we’re expecting really good things from him. He has to go against the other team’s best players day in and day out.”

Junior Billy Hopkins is another returning All-Conference Player.

“Billy is one of the quickest and most consistent players on the team,” Crawford said. “He’s not going to give up on any points. What Billy lacks in physical size, he makes up with his ‘high-revving motor’: he just won’t give in on any matches.”

Junior Nick Herzog completes the trio of returning All-Conference players.

“Nick truly has the potential to be a good player,” Crawford said. “When he comes in with a great mental attitude, and with the great physical power he can play with, he is a really formidable force to have to compete against.”

Transfers Oliver Marinkovic and Marek Pawelec are two newcomers who have played well during the season. Marinkovic is undefeated and ranked 11th in the region this season.

For doubles play, Benjelloun and Marinkovic are ranked third in the region due to a strong showing in a tournament during the fall.

So far this season, NKU has posted a 5-3 record with two of the losses coming to Division I schools Xavier University and the University of North Carolina-Asheville.

The team has posted impressive wins against the 28th ranked team in Division II, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, and the 24th ranked NAIA team, Olivet Nazarene University.

The team begins conference play March 23 against Indianapolis followed by matches March 26 at Saint Joseph’s College and March 27 at Lewis University.

Coach Crawford enters his 14th season as head coach at NKU and is coming off his best season to date.

After finishing 22-5 overall, posting an 8-0 conference record, and winning the conference tournament, he was awarded GLVC Coach of the Year.