By Jenna Melman, Staff Writer
The LIU men’s and women’s tennis teams competed at the Northeast Conference (NEC) Championship this past weekend from Friday-Sunday, April 14-16, with the women’s team capturing the NEC Title, sweeping both St. Francis Brooklyn and Sacred Heart four sets to none.
After this tournament, the women’s team sits at 12-10 overall, 6-1 at home, and finishes the conference schedule at a perfect 6-0 in the NEC. The men’s team closes out their season at 8-14 overall after beating Wagner College in the semifinals four sets to none, but fell to the #1 Seed St.Francis Brooklyn four sets to two in the finals.
Jan Griga and Pavlos Stephanides coach both teams. This is the men’s second season, and Griga is very proud of where this team has gotten. After winning six matches in a row this season and making it all the way to the NEC Championship round, Griga speaks on the team’s growth.
“We kept working at it, and we ended up getting some traction. We ended up salvaging the season at the end, we turned it around,” he said.
Stephanides spoke on the competitiveness and consistent success of the women’s team.
“The players we brought in are all tournament players, we recruited some players who have experience at the highest junior level. We’re also bringing transfers from other universities. We have a lot of experienced grad students and international students, a lot of experience on the roster this season”, he said.
Griga believes these groups have incredible teamwork and work really well together.
“The players have become a real family. Half of them have a house together off campus, and a lot of them are international from different countries. We have a couple from France, the rest from all different continents. Despite their differences, they’ve all found a way to come together and be very close”, he said. “They share dinners, some with the women’s team, and the men’s and women’s teams go to each others’ games to show support.”
Griga adds that this cooperation and team chemistry has led to immense success on the court.
“We’re stronger if we’re a family, a cohesive team. We encourage them to take care of each other. We’ve been able to foster that culture through the years, and they’re all friends,” he said. “Winning brings the teams together the most. Having a good season and winning tournaments and matches and on trips, singing in the van, and everyone’s in a good mood, that’s the best, there’s no replacement for that.”
While there is no replacement for winning, the teams always have an amazing time in Florida for their trip over spring break, according to Stephanides.
“The teams AirBnB a house in Florida every year for some intensive bonding. Players cook, play games, go to the beach and everyone’s in a good mood having a good time,” he said.
Stephanides believes Tennis is an amazing sport that anyone can take part of, no matter what level.
“Stick with it. It can be challenging at first because it’s a very technically demanding sport, and it really takes some years before you feel you can hit the ball well and be consistent, but it is a really beautiful sport once you do, and my advice is to not give it up and keep going,” he said. “It’s a sport you can play forever, until you’re in your 90s. The key is to keep playing consistently so you can get traction and improve and play forever.”
Griga wants all his players to make the most of their experiences as a member of LIU Tennis.
“We try to make sure that our players are happy. The big thing for us is we try to foster character and good relationships and give them a good experience that makes them better people coming out of this program,” he said. “Not just LIU’s academic side but the athletic side they can use in their next steps. Most of them might not go pro, but they’ll hopefully use some things they learned here.”
Coach Griga closes with some inspiration.
“Through success, we hope for them to learn that hard work does pay off and you will accomplish things through hard work. We make sure we do a good job as coaches to give them the opportunity to win and remember these years well and fondly and take it with them into their lives, to work hard and reap the reward,” he said.