NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University tennis team enters the 2019 season with a new coach and a new outlook as the Cadets look to make their way back into the mix for the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) title chase.
Matt Roche took over the reins of the program this past fall from Jo Lynn Ostler, who served as the coach for two separate stints totaling five seasons.
Roche played collegiate tennis at Notre Dame (Ohio) ending his career as the No. 1 singles player and has previously served as a coach at Thomas More and Lynn University.
"We're looking to overhaul of the culture of the team," Roche said. "We've changed around how we practice with working on specific drills and shots for a portion of practice. We're also building team camaraderie with external activities and going to on-campus events."
One of the biggest changes Roche has made is planning a spring break trip for the team this year, which will be the first time in program history the Cadets will go on. Norwich will play six matches in seven days ranging from Bennington, Vt. to Pittsburgh, Pa., as well as stops in Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
"I played college tennis and I think one of the biggest draws is to be able to go on a spring break trip," Roche said. "We're not going to a traditional place like Hilton Head, but we're going to be able to travel through the Midwest a little bit and see some new places in Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cleveland. Building a program takes advertising and Getting ourselves out there to play teams we haven't traditionally played is important."
Norwich returns seven players from last year's squad that went 6-5 overall. The Cadets will also welcome six newcomers to the fold as well this year.
Junior Dylan Ackerman (Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands) and sophomore Alexi Gilmore (Haverhill, Mass.) headline the returners, playing in the top two spots last season. Ackerman went 5-6 at No. 1 singles and two years ago earned GNAC Rookie of the Year honors. Gilmore went 9-2 in his inaugural year at No. 2 singles.
"We have an interesting makeup this year," Roche said. "Alexi and Dylan are on top right now and after that we have a large bunch of players that are very similar and on any given day could beat each other. Alexi and Dylan should hold their own. They both had good seasons last year and I expect they can do the same this year."
Senior Sam Beiter (Youngstown, N.Y.) went 7-3, primarily at No. 3 singles as well for the Cadets en route to earning GNAC Second Team All-Conference honors. Beiter was joined on the Second Team by Gilmore.
Sophomore Noah Stillman (Danbury, Conn.) and junior Timothy Birnbaum (Mahwah, N.J.) both return after seeing significant singles action in 2018. Stillman went 5-3, while Birnbaum was 5-4 in solo action last season.
Sophomore Abbie Barker (Warren, Vt.) is expected to factor heavily into doubles action. She went 1-0 in her lone doubles match last season.
Roche pointed to freshman Timothy Santy (San Antonio, Texas) as a newcomer he thinks that can come in and compete right away.
"I think where we are going to win matches this year is with our depth," Roche said. "I would say from four to nine, we're very close skill wise. I've been preaching that we need to be very competitive at the bottom of the lineup. Sam will start at third singles and Tim Santy will be starting the season at five. Abbie will likely factor in as a strong doubles player."
Norwich was picked to finish sixth in the North division in the GNAC Preseason Coaches' Poll released last week.
"I hope we're competitive and compete until the end of every match this year. We're not going to be judging this season solely on wins and losses. We'd obviously like some wins but we're trying to build a culture and identity. We've got to be tough mentally and envision that we can win. The goal is to try and get at least once conference win to show improvement. The team has all been very receptive to coaching and mid-match adjustments so far."
Norwich will open the season on Friday, March 1 when it hosts Western New England University in non-conference action at 5 p.m. in Shapiro Field House.
The Cadets will also host Castleton University on Wednesday, March 6 at 4 p.m. prior to leaving for their spring break trip on Saturday, March 9.