RICHMOND, Va. – Each new season brings about new challenges and surprises. That's even true for VCU's Paul Kostin, who is now in his 30th season overseeing collegiate tennis programs.
Kostin, who is in his 21st season with the Black & Gold, has his squads at the top of the CAA yet again and ready to defend their conference titles at this weekend's CAA Championships in Norfolk, Va.
"Both of our teams have shown the ability to play really well against quality opponents, so we know that we can do it. Right now, it's just a matter of showing up and playing our best every time and we'll have a good chance of winning," Kostin said.
The women's squad enters this weekend as the number two seed, sporting a record of 18-4 this spring and is ranked 35th in the latest ITA National Rankings. The men's team will be the top seed this weekend after rolling up a 20-5 mark this spring, which includes a perfect 6-0 in matches against conference opponents.
"There's several teams on both sides that can really challenge for the title," Kostin said. "We'll need to be focused and determined to win every time we step on the courts. It's a different season now, it's do or die."
While both teams are among the top two teams in the CAA, both have taken different journeys this spring. The men's squad hit a bump in the road early, but won 13 of their last 15 to enter this weekend playing solid tennis. It was the opposite for the women, who scorched their opponents early, but hit some struggles late.
"I have to say I'm a little surprised about our guys this spring. I thought we had the talent, but we're very young, so I wasn't sure what to expect. They've played well enough to put themselves in a position to challenge for the title and are on the cusp of an at-large bid for the NCAAs," Kostin said. "On the other hand, I'm really looking for our veterans on the women's side to step up this weekend. We've hit some bumps in the road recently, but I know Yana will get them focused and ready to play."
After losing CAA Player of the Year Thibaut Charron to graduation, Kostin looked towards the lone senior on this year's men's squad, Tim Johannsen, for leadership and solid play at out of the top spot in the lineup. Johannsen has done that and more, compiling an overall record of 27-7 with a 20-4 mark this spring.
Joining Johannsen at the top of the Rams' lineup has been sophomore Max Wennakoski, who sports an 18-4 record this spring to create a dynamic 1-2 punch at the top of the Black & Gold lineup.
"That's what I want out of my top guys," Kostin said. "They are at the top of the lineup to win, so they are just doing what I want and expect of them."
The emergence of junior Alex Bara has been the story on the women's side, as the Oradea, Romania native has dropped just one match this spring en route to a 17-1 mark. Bara has worked her way up the lineup, playing at four different sports before Associate Head Coach Yana Carollo etched her into the top spot in the final match of the regular season.
"Alex has been great and she's worked really hard to get where she's at," Carollo said. "We need her to continue her strong play as well as each one of her teammates to step up to the challenge this weekend."
Those teammates include senior Kateryna Yergina (14-6 this spring), sophomore Josefin Hjertquist (18 wins this year) and junior Ana Bara (17 wins this year). The freshmen duo of Olga Terteac and Daria Yakavelva have also given the Black & Gold some help at the back end of the lineup, combining for 44 wins this year.
The Rams will need all hands on deck for what is sure to be yet another hard-fought CAA Championship weekend.