After completing a successful regular season and postseason that saw them win back-to-back conference championships, the DePaul men’s tennis team looks forward to taking their experiences to new heights as they prepare for the Division I Men’s Tennis Championships taking place May 19-28 , 2022.
The team is currently still in awe about going to the tournament last season, and have had time to somewhat celebrate their accomplishment, including having freshman Marino Jakic throw out the first pitch at DePaul’s softball game against Illinois.
“It was a long time coming,” head coach Matt Brothers said. “Last year was special and a unique group of guys. This year, we are a really young team. I thought anything was possible, but in the beginning I didn’t know what we had. The guys really embraced working hard every day, improving and continued to express that throughout the season. Their hard work paid off. ”
The hard work continues as they prepare to play the best competition around the world. The team took two days off after winning the conference championship before getting back into their practice routine.
“A lot of our schools had the same schedules as us,” junior Vito Tonejc said. “In practice, we played a lot of points and matches, so I think it was good to refresh a little from the season.”
The remaining members of the Band of Brothers participated in both conference championships. Last year they were the younger players learning the ropes of achieving success. This year, they were the veteran presence that led the team to greatness once again.
“It honestly hasn’t kicked in yet,” Tonejc said. “A lot of people said congratulations and that was cool, but we still have to practice for the tournament.”
Tonejc expressed desires to pursue a professional career once the season ends. From an individual perspective, this experience would be a good test for Tonejc, and he is ready to put his competitive spirit to practice playing against the best in the collegiate realm.
“It feels good because you want to play against the best,” Tonejc said. “That is a good test for yourself. I like the challenge. ”
The real challenge for this squad, however, will be how the young core will step up for the team in the tournament.
The young guys have proven themselves to be reliable under the biggest stages. They played a vital role in securing the title as back-to-back champions.
“The younger guys made some valuable contributions to this Big East title,” graduate Tripp Tuff said after winning the conference tournament. “We’ve officially welcomed them to the Band of Brothers.”
Similar to the conference championships, the new members of the Band of Brothers will be able to embrace another experience that they have not experienced yet.
Tuff believes that it is important to prepare them for the NCAA tournament similarly to the conference tournament.
“We have experience in playing in the tournament and against top teams,” Tuff said. “We are doing our best to explain to the younger guys what to expect, but also let them know that they should be confident in themselves and the team with all that we have accomplished this year.”
Last year, the team attended their first Division I NCAA tournament. It was a learning experience for them since they had never been in that type of situation before. With that experience under their belt, the elder statesmen believe that this year’s trip can be different.
“Last year, we had never been to the tournament before,” Tuff said. “Having played in it, a lot of guys got consumed by the pressure of the environment. Going into this year, it is about making sure that in part with the Big East tournament this year, we gear up the young guys on the team. ”
One of the reasons they believe this year would be different is due to the schedule they played outside of the conference. Playing against the top 30 schools in the country put the team in a better state from a preparation perspective to approach the tournament the right way.
“We had a tough schedule,” Tonejc said. “I think it’s going to help us, and we can use those experiences to help us get back into our rhythm again.”
As the team prepares for the tournament, the emphasis will not just be putting their best efforts forward, but having fun in the process, especially for the new guys.
“My message has always been to strive to go about your time here and not have regrets,” Brothers said. “Be in the moment, don’t worry about the last point, and don’t have any regrets. The guys are going to be nervous, but they can work through that. I don’t worry about that with these guys. They are confident. ”