Men’s tennis team opens Horizon League tourney


Matt Sexton

NKU men’s tennis player Mate Virag.

Two days before the Horizon League tournament, the NKU tennis team trots out onto the court to begin their afternoon practice session.

This time last year, the Norse had already played their final match of the year, losing to USC Upstate in the first round of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament on April 17, 2015.

This year with the change of conference came with a different and more positive story.

The Norse earned the three seed in the Horizon League tournament this year, going 8-6 on the year and 3-3 in league play. The seed doesn’t matter much to head coach Brian Nester, however. In his eyes, the seeding is just a number.

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“The league is very balanced,” Nester said. “We are the three seed and UIC is the six seed but it is almost dead even. We may have the slight edge but we have to prove it on the court.”

The Norse have already proved they are a force to be reckoned with in the Horizon League, coming through in tough situations to earn wins instead of just falling short.

“We’ve won a lot of 4-3 matches this year. We use to lose all of those matches,” Mate Virag said. “It was frustrating losing by one point. But this year those matches have been going our way and it’s a much better feeling.”

This has given the Norse a huge boost in confidence that will be needed to get very far in the tournament.

“Playing all the close matches can only help us,” Nester said. “The guys are used to winning and that’s a good habit to have.”

Virag has been one of the most outstanding players on the team this year. The junior has played first singles in every match this year and has proved he can not only hang with the best, but beat the best player on any team. He has an overall record of 12-6 in singles matches.

“He’s improved as much as everyone,” Nester said. “He’s fighting through matches at the most difficult moments when in the past he didn’t handle the tough situations as well. He’s at the point where he has had to deal with playing an outstanding player every match.”

The emergence of senior Jody Maginley has proved pivotal for the Norse this season. After posting an 8-17 record last season, Maginley flourished in the Horizon League with a 14-6 record in singles play and making his presence known behind Virag at second singles.   

“It’s a new feel feeling for me. I have had a lot more fun playing tennis this year,” Maginley said. “The fact that we are here competing with this team is a good feeling.”

The Norse lost to UIC 4-2 three weeks ago, after junior Lukas Clemens was not able to take the court due to illness. Clemens had been playing three singles when he went down, creating a noticeable hole in the Norse lineup.

“I was very unhappy I was not able to compete in such an important phase of the season,” Clemens said.

With Clemens back on the court now, the Norse will look to redeem themselves.

“I think we can go all the way,” Clemens said.

The Norse have a great chance to hang the first Horizon League championship banner at NKU this weekend, but Nester knows the team can’t afford to look that far ahead if they want that chance.

“We have to win one at a time,” Nester said. “To beat UIC would be a good win. To beat Green Bay would be a great win. To beat whoever comes out of the other side would be a lottery ticket.”