Stability is an Asset in Iowa's Corner

May 4, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Stability has long been an ally to the University of Iowa men’s tennis team. With a coach entering his 31st season and 12-of-14 players on the roster returning, the Hawkeyes will head into next season with the benefits of familiar faces and experience on their side.

The Hawkeyes closed their regular season with a heartbreaking defeat in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament last week. Yet, the team still notched many accomplishments, and will head in to the offseason with optimism.

“Looking at the record, it’s a disappointing season in terms of results, but not disappointing at all in terms of what the future holds for this program,” said head coach Steve Houghton, who has earned 331 wins with the Hawkeyes. “I’m not discouraged by how we played this year, and I’m certainly excited about what we can achieve next season.”

Houghton will be pressed with the task of replacing the departures of Austen Kauss and Nikita Zotov from graduation. Although the duo combined to earn 99 career victories, a solid group of returning athletes will provide Iowa a reason to set the bar high this offseason.

The Hawkeyes will return four of six players from the starting singles lineup and five of six players from the starting doubles lineup.

“We’ll be returning some guys that really did a lot for our team this season in Marc (Bruche), Will (Vasos), Garret (Dunn), Tom (Mroziewicz) and Jonas (Dierckx),” said Houghton. “We also have a lot of guys on the bench that have gotten their feet wet. When you add it up, we have a core of guys that have a lot of potential.”

Iowa finished the regular season with an 8-12 overall record and a 2-8 slate in Big Ten play before falling to Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament by a 4-2 margin. Iowa competed in one of the most challenging Big Ten conferences in the past 30 years, according to Houghton. Five Big Ten teams earned berths to the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championships.

“There were a lot of great accomplishments for this team,” said Houghton. “It just so happened that this is the toughest the Big Ten has been since I have been here. It made for tough competition every night out.”

After starting the season with a 1-3 record, Iowa notched their longest win streak of the season with three straight home victories Feb. 18 to Feb. 23, which included a win over rival Drake. The win streak was snapped when the Hawkeyes nearly pulled off one of the biggest victories in program history, falling just short to No. 4 Illinois 4-3.

Iowa also had a successful spring break trip through Florida, winning two-of-three matches with solid wins over Central Florida and Florida Atlantic.

The Hawkeyes won back-to-back conference matches midway through the Big Ten season as well. Iowa edged Penn State 4-3 at home, and rallied to a 4-3 road victory five days later against Purdue in one of Iowa’s most exciting matches of the season. Iowa was ranked as high as 57th by the ITA, and had two wins over ranked foes.

After starting the season slow in doubles play, the team finished with a 31-32 record as doubles became one of Iowa’s strong points. That was in large part due to the success of Bruche and Vasos, who led the team with a team high 13 doubles wins. Mroziewicz and Dunn also posted an 8-5 record.

Vasos had Iowa’s top record in singles, going 14-7 on the year. Vasos also notched one of Iowa’s most impressive singles wins of the season with a 7-5, 1-6 (10-6) victory over Ohio State’s No. 116 Balasz Novak. Novak was 27-0 in Big Ten singles play up until that point.

Bruche provided the team with 11 singles wins in dual play, all of which came in the No. 1 singles position. Kauss and Dunn also finished with nine singles wins, Zotov had six singles victories and Mroziewicz posted five triumphs.

Houghton will look to feed off the positive accomplishments reached this season and a wave of returning players to help take the program to the next level.

“Over the last three years, we’ve made obvious strides,” said Houghton. “I think we played at the same high level as we did our past two winning seasons, and I think we’ve established ourselves. Now, we have to be ready to take the next step.”