Huskers Ready to Climb Big Ten Ladder
The Nebraska men’s tennis team laid the foundation for the future in 2017, after a young Husker roster took the court against some of the nation’s best teams following the departure of five talented seniors from the 2016 squad.
A 2017 roster with no juniors or seniors took some lumps during the course of the season, but never stopped battling.
With three sophomores and three freshmen from last year’s team returning to the roster after making significant contributions last year, the Huskers have a higher level of experience than a season ago.
The Big Red also will be bolstered by the addition of three talented players, including the return of former Husker Linus Erhart to the roster.
Erhart, who graduated from FH Vorarlberg University of Applied Science in his home country of Austria in the summer of 2017, was a talented freshman for the Big Red in 2014-15. He spent the past two years in Austria, before returning to Nebraska to pursue a master’s degree in business administration while choosing to return to the courts as well.
Nebraska Coach Kerry McDermott said Erhart’s return could have a major impact on the Husker fortunes in 2017-18.
“He is a very strong player who has very good fundamentals and will be a big asset to have back on the team this year,” McDermott said. “He is quite the leader who leads by example, and we are very excited to have him back as his experience and level of play have already made our team stronger.”
Erhart recorded 19 singles victories playing out of the middle of Nebraska’s lineup in 2014-15, while adding 14 doubles wins.
The Huskers also add a pair of talented freshmen who could make immediate impacts.
Isaac Nortey, a newcomer from Lakeland, Fla., earned runner-up honors in the Florida state singles competition in 2016. McDermott said Nortey is a hard-working and determined competitor who is still tapping the potential of his overall ability.
“We like the fact that Isaac has not reached his potential with his tennis,” McDermott said. “His best tennis will be in the years ahead of him in college and past college. Isaac is a very gifted athlete and along with that he is a very hard worker, and a very determined young man. He is just great to be around. He has a very infectious attitude about life, and he will make our team better by having him around.”
Fellow freshman William Grattan-Smith from Atlanta reached the round of 16 at the USTA Boys 16 and Under Hard Court National Championships in 2015, before leading the Atlanta International School to its first Georgia state semifinal appearance in 2016.
Grattan-Smith’s high-level experience could help him make an instant impression on the Nebraska lineup in 2017-18.
“William is someone who brings a wealth of experience and good energy to our team,” McDermott said. “He will absolutely make an immediate impact and will this team to great heights in the years that he is here.”
While McDermott is planning on the new additions to make immediate contributions, he is also expecting more victories from the talented nucleus of returning Huskers.
Junior Toby Boyer, who has been one of Nebraska’s top players the past two seasons, continues to show his potential.
Boyer showed his continually improving play by battling his way to a runner-up finish at the ITA Central Regional Singles Championships in the fall of 2017.
Boyer was just the second Husker to reach the event finals since Husker Karl Falkland won the tournament in 1993. Boyer’s performance earned him a spot at Oracle ITA National Fall Championships.
“We are excited as coaches to see Toby’s hard work paying off,” McDermott said. “He had an outstanding fall and he showed some great mental toughness and fortitude to reach the ITA Central Regional finals by beating some highly ranked opponents.
“Toby is focused on continuing to work on his game and keep improving as we get ready for the second semester dual match season.”
Boyer led the Huskers with 11 singles victories last season. As a true freshman in 2016, Boyer notched 21 wins playing primarily out of the No. 3 singles spot, while teaming with his older brother, Dusty, for 21 doubles victories.
Boyer and Dylan Bednarczyk shared time playing out of the top two spots in the Husker singles lineup last season. Bednarczyk, a sophomore from Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, led Nebraska with three Big Ten singles victories among his 10 wins on the season.
Third-year sophomore Micah Klousia is also prepared to play a major role for the Huskers in 2018. As a redshirt freshman, the Springfield, Mo., native notched 11 singles victories while playing out of the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 spots in the Husker lineup. A hard-working leader, Klousia also earned Nebraska’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award last season.
“Micah is just starting to reach his potential, but he will need to continue to push himself and believe in himself,” McDermott said. “We feel good things will happen for him and the team in the future.”
Chris Dean gives Nebraska a third sophomore who could see significant gains on the court in 2018. The second-year Husker from Papillion, Neb., competed in 26 singles matches a year ago.
Juniors Rok Krizaj and Jon Meyer round out the Husker roster in 2018. Krizaj, from Idrija, Slovenia, is one of the top student-athletes in the classroom at Nebraska. A 2017 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, he was also an academic All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore.
Meyer, a Lincoln native who spent his first season with the Huskers in 2017 after transferring from Wichita State, joins Krizaj in pursuit of their first singles wins as Huskers in 2018.
“Jon is a very hard worker who continues to show improvement at practice,” McDermott said. “He just needs more match play to improve.”
Traditionally, Nebraska has played a rigorous non-conference schedule to prepare for the highly ranked teams in the Big Ten, and that tradition will continue in the spring of 2018.
The Huskers will open the spring campaign with a six-match home stand at the Dillon Tennis Center, beginning with two matches against South Dakota State on Saturday, Jan. 13.
The following Saturday, the Huskers will be back in action against Creighton, before taking nearly three weeks off from competition to maximize their training efforts.
The Big Red will close the stand by playing three matches in two days at the Dillon Tennis Center, beginning with a dual against North Dakota on Friday, Feb. 9. The following day, the Huskers will battle Omaha and UMKC.
The Huskers hit the road for the first time to take on Arizona (Feb. 17) and Northern Arizona (Feb. 18) in Tucson. They continue a three-game road swing by facing Denver in the Mile High City on Sunday, Feb. 25.
Nebraska will take on Northern Illinois at the Dillon Tennis Center on Saturday, March 3, before returning to the road to take on Wichita State (March 9) and New Mexico (March 10) in Wichita, Kan.
The Huskers open Big Ten Conference play at home by battling Wisconsin on Saturday, March 17 at the Dillon Tennis Center. The following day, Nebraska travels to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes.
The Big Red will have a single Big Ten match the following weekend on Sunday, March 25, at Minnesota, before returning to the Dillon Tennis Center to clash with Northwestern (March 30) and Illinois (April 1).
Nebraska returns to Big Ten road play the following weekend by tangling with Penn State (April 7) and Ohio State (April 8), before stepping away from conference action to challenge Dayton on the night of April 8, before returning to Lincoln.
The Huskers close home Big Ten play by squaring off with Purdue (April 13) and Indiana (April 15), before wrapping up their home season at the Dillon Tennis Center by dueling with Drake on Wednesday, April 18.
Nebraska finishes Big Ten regular-season action at Michigan State (April 21) and Michigan (April 22), before heading back to Iowa City for the Big Ten Tournament (April 26-29).
“We are looking forward to a very competitive year because we feel we are much better,” McDermott said. “Our returning players all played extensively in the lineup throughout the year, and they are more experienced and have improved over the summer and throughout the fall season. The team is much stronger, and we feel we can go into every match this year ready to compete.”