A year ago, the Ferris State University men's tennis team finished second in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), won the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional championship match and advanced to the NCAA Division II National Men's Tennis Championships.
In the process, the Bulldogs compiled a 23-7 mark, had three first-team All-GLIAC selections and put together a 13-match winning streak prior to the conference tournament.
Will Ferris State be hard pressed to duplicate such a successful season during the 2001 campaign?
According to third-year head coach Paul Marcum, the Bulldogs could be significantly better than a year ago.
"Our team looks stronger now than it was last year," he said. "Our players that played in the second through fifth positions last season are now #3, #4, #5 and #6. That is a big change and quite an improvement."
That improvement has been noticed.
Entering the season, FSU is ranked third in the Midwest Region and is 15th in the NCAA Division II National Rankings due in large part to an impressive fall performance. During the fall semester, the Bulldogs compiled a 28-7 overall mark at the International Tennis Association (ITA) Mid-American Regional Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind. At the regional tournament, sophomore Jan Talian finished first in singles play and teamed up with senior Martin Krbec to win the regional doubles title and move on to the Rolex "SuperBowl" of Small College Tennis in Memphis, Tenn.
Although Talian and Krbec were defeated in the opening round in both singles and doubles action at the Rolex tournament, they have been extremely successful on the national circuit over the past two years.
In 1999, Talian and Krbec captured the national doubles championship at the "SuperBowl" in Memphis. Earlier this month, the duo paired up with Jennifer Garvey and Barbora Jilkova of the Bulldog women's squad to win the inaugural NCAA Division II World Team Tennis Championship at the WingspanBank.com/World Team Tennis (WTT) National Small College Championships in Claremont, Calif.
The success of Talian and Krbec on a national scale has benefited the entire Bulldog program.
"What Jan and Martin have done the last couple of years is just amazing," Marcum said. "People around the nation know us and Ferris State because of what they have done in tennis. I actually have recruits contacting me because of where this program has gone. A lot of it is because of them and the national exposure they have given us."
A native of the Czech Republic, Talian is projected to be the No. 1 singles player for the Bulldogs once again. Krbec, a two-time All-GLIAC singles champion, will slide from the No. 2 spot to the third position to make room for freshman standout Francisco Valencia. Krbec was 30-4 a year ago and owns a career mark of 87-19 in singles play.
A first-team all-conference honoree a year ago and the ITA Midwest Rookie of the Year, Talian was rated as the top Division II singles player in the Midwest Region as he posted a 28-6 mark in singles action. The duo of Talian and Krbec finished 42-4 overall at No. 1 doubles and was the top-ranked team in the nation.
All-GLIAC performer Anthony Kountouris is one of six seniors on the nine-man roster and could be a force at the No. 4 position after compiling a 24-8 record at the third position last season. Rockford junior Matt Cole will compete at No. 5 singles this year after notching a 17-10 mark during the 2000 campaign. Senior All-GLIAC honorable mention choice Robbie Todd will move into the sixth spot after finishing 25-7 last season. Fellow seniors Nick Bergman, Calvin LaForrest and Anthony Mueller-Sim will provide ample depth.
Marcum, the 2000 GLIAC Coach of the Year, hopes the revamped Bulldog lineup will bring even better results.
"Our goals are to win the GLIAC, finish No. 1 in the region and end up in the top eight nationally," he said. "Our strongest competitor within the conference will no doubt be Northwood. The are ranked second regionally and 11th in the nation. However, I do believe that Wayne State, Grand Valley and Michigan Tech will be a little stronger too."
A year ago, Northwood claimed the GLIAC title by virtue of a 5-3 win over the Bulldogs at the GLIAC Tournament in Midland, Mich. For Ferris State to reclaim the conference throne and earn its fourth-straight trip to the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional, there is very little doubt the Bulldogs must duplicate their impressive all-around results of a year ago.
Besides finishing the 1999-2000 season with a 156-45 mark in singles play, the Bulldogs also sported one of the best groups of doubles teams in the region. At the conference tournament last year, FSU lost only two doubles matches. Overall, Ferris State finished 97-22 in doubles play.
The top two tandems from a year ago return intact. The potent duo of Talian and Krbec will hold down the fort at the No. 1 spot while Kountouris and Todd are back at No. 2 doubles after posting a 28-8 mark last season. Cole will pair up with Valencia to fill the lineup at No. 3 doubles.
While Marcum believe the Bulldogs are much-improved, he also feels the schedule could be a determining factor in the program's success.
"Our schedule is very solid," he said. "Our spring trip to Florida and Georgia will say a lot for our season. We play five teams ranked ahead of us nationally while we are down there and it will be a big test for us to play outside again in the heat.
"The Central Oklahoma Invite will also be big and have a huge regional impact. Although they don't count toward our rankings, we will also play two very tough matches against NCAA Division I teams Bowling Green and Western Michigan."
On paper, Ferris State appears to be prepared to make a strong run at its 15th GLIAC title. With a stronger lineup and added experience, the former Bulldog All-American Marcum believes FSU also has the talent and depth to become a contender on the national scene.
For the Bulldogs to rise to the top of the Division II crop, Talian and Krbec will have to lead the way. Their high-level play has placed a significant focus on the Ferris State program. If that focus is to have regional and national implications, they must consistently perform as they did a year ago. The spotlight has been turned on. Marcum hopes a stronger squad keeps it on.