The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Men’s tennis serves early success through team chemistry

Ryan Hinske
Sophomore Pablo Torres Almeida returns a serve at team practice as head coach Matt Brothers observes on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at Lakeshore Sport & Fitness. Brothers is in his 17th season of coaching the Blue Demons.

DePaul men’s tennis did not become a conference stalwart overnight; its culture, fueled by head coach Matt Brothers, is a product of experience and connectivity, 17 years in the making.

The Blue Demons’ schedule stays challenging, hitting the ground running in January against Big 10 teams in Michigan (No. 14 in the NCAA Top 25) and Wisconsin, followed by conference challenger Creighton. Starting the season 4-4, their record seems underwhelming, but in the 2021-22 season, they went 12-12 overall yet won the Big East Championship by finishing 8-0 in conference play.

On Feb. 16 and 17, DePaul played matches against the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Louisiana, splitting the matches but taking home several Big East weekly awards. The pair of DePaul graduate Leon Huck and junior Sven Moser won Doubles Team of the Week while Metteo Iaquinto won Singles Player of the Week, capping off an ultimately successful weekend that saw different players stepping up than earlier in the season.

DePaul junior Sven Moser starts to serve at a team practice on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at Lakeshore Sport & Fitness in Lincoln Park. Moser and graduate student Leon Huck took home Big East Doubles Team of the Week after going undefeated as a duo on Feb. 16 and 17. (Ryan Hinske)

“The award for me is not that important, as I want to get as many wins as possible during the season,” Iaquinto said, “but winning that match … (it) was one of the toughest matches that I’ve played in my career.”

Iaquinto, a junior in his third season at DePaul from Palermo, Italy, has quickly become one of the veteran leaders of the team, his experience leading him to victory last weekend.

“I’ve been on the other hand many times,” Iaquinto said, referring to close, competitive matches. “So I know how to deal with those moments now, more so than before, and having that experience helped me to overcome those tough moments.”

Iaquinto says he uses the experience he learned from veterans as a younger player at DePaul to share with the now younger players on the team. Their biggest advantage, he says, is their connection.

“Team chemistry I feel has been one of the best that it’s been during these three years,” Iaquinto said. “We’re in a good place, I feel.”

Senior Sourya Verma is another veteran leader who, paired with junior Jona Gitschel, makes up a doubles team that took home Big East Men’s Doubles Team of the Week Jan. 25 for their performance during DePaul’s first-ever win against the University of Wisconsin.

“It was a pretty good award to get to kick off the year,” Verma said. “It’s a lot of confidence it brings between us as a team … and we have to continue that confidence for the rest of the year.”

Joining the team as a junior last year, Verma’s Blue Demons finished 11-15 and lost to Butler in the first round of the Big East tournament.

“I honestly feel like we’re in a really better spot than we were last year, and I just think everyone’s gelled together well,” Verma said. “No one plays a bigger role than anyone else … and now all of us have a common goal and that’s to win the conference and go to the NCAA (tournament).”

Verma is no stranger to winning. At Binghamton University, he led his team in singles and doubles wins as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to DePaul. While he was succeeding at Binghamton, DePaul won the Big East Championship in back-to-back years. 2023 was a gap in that success during his first season as a Blue Demon, but Verma believes his team is in a good spot for his final undergraduate season.

“I’m just trying to enjoy every moment; every up, every down,” Verma said. “This is my last three months of college tennis, so I’m trying to cherish every moment that I can.”

At the center of the men’s tennis team is Matt Brothers, who has been coaching DePaul for 17 years, a running tenure that is only eclipsed at DePaul by 38-year women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno.

Graduate student Laurentiu Mandocescu rises up for an overhead shot during team practice on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at Lakeshore Sport & Fitness. “Mando” transferred to DePaul before this season after an undergraduate career at Youngstown State University. (Ryan Hinske)

Brothers’ overall record was 202-198 going into this season, developing the program from the ground up. It took until 2016 to secure the No. 1 seed at the Big East tournament and until 2021 to win the coveted title. The teams Brothers has built revolve around the players’ connection. A few years ago, his players began referring to themselves as “The Band of Brothers.”

“The biggest thing these guys have going is just really team chemistry and the brotherhood that they have,” Brothers said. “I tell them ‘we guys over me guys.’”

DePaul has responded well to challenges, flipping a 0-4 shutout loss to Boston College Feb. 3 into a dominant 4-1 win against Army the next day.

“With some of the injuries we’ve had, it’s been kind of this ‘next man up’ mentality and we’ve done pretty well,” Brothers said. “We’ve competed and beat some teams down a player … and still battling, so it just builds confidence throughout the team that anybody can jump in there and get the job done.”

DePaul is set to face conference rival Marquette Sunday, March 3 at XS Tennis Village in Chicago’s south side, the lack of travel proving a benefit to the Blue Demons.

Graduate Laurentiu Mandocescu, left, and sophomore Pablo Torres Almeida high-five on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at Lakeshore Sport & Fitness. The two teamed up for their doubles practice. (Ryan Hinske)

“It’s tough being on the road,” Brothers said. “Our home courts, we’re comfortable there. We’re familiar with the facility and the court surface. We don’t call it home court advantage for nothing.”

As the schedule progresses, more conference matchups with greater significance will be played into March and April. Brothers said his team is ready.

“We’re at our best when everybody is competing and playing winnable tennis, and we’ve definitely had those moments already … and we’ve had a couple where some guys may have dropped below that level,” Brothers said. “(I’m) just looking for consistency from everybody, and I’m confident we’re gonna see that … the guys have been on a good, upward trajectory.”

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