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St. Nobert men’s tennis earns first conference title

The St. Norbert College men’s tennis team meets before starting its 9-0 dual win over Marian University April 16 at Green Bay Tennis Center. Pictured from left: Head Coach John Steckart, David Vandenberg, Joe Pellechia, Brian Coulter, Brett Daniels, Anthony Michels, Josh Brown and Adam Stacho. Patrick Ferron/St. Norbert Athletics photo

By Dan Lukes

SNC Athletics

DE PERE – Draped on the west wall of the arena within St. Norbert College’s Mulva Family Fitness & Sports Center are two historical banners — each list the Green Knights’ 23 sports and the years they captured conference championships.

The space underneath men’s tennis has stood blank since the program started in the 1937-38 school year, until now.

With a 9-0 win over Marian University on Sunday at Green Bay Tennis Center, the Green Knights won a share of the 2023 Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference men’s tennis championship with Illinois Institute of Technology and Milwaukee School of Engineering.

The title is the first for a program that had never finished higher than third in conference standings.

St. Norbert wrapped up its regular season 11-6 overall and finished 6-1 in the NACC.

The title comes on the heels of a 2022 season where the Green Knights went 4-8 overall.

St. Norbert was then picked for fifth in the 2023 pre-season NACC poll.

John Steckart, in his first full season as the program’s head coach, cited his seven-player roster’s belief and commitment in themselves and each other.

 “A change in culture creating a process where we believe in our ability and face adversity head-on knowing we have each other’s support,” Steckart said when asked what the biggest reason for the turnaround has been. “All the credit should go to the players who have to strike a balance where their individual goals belnd harmoniously with what we want to achieve as a group.”

St. Norbert dropped its only two matches in the fall, but started off quickly in the spring portion of its schedule.

The Green Knights won four dual matches in three days on Feb. 3-5, the last two coming in 5-4 wins over St. Mary’s (Minn.) University and UW-Stevens Point.

A pair of De Pere High School graduates, junior David Vandenberg and freshman Brett Daniels, have helped spearhead the turnaround.

Vandenberg is a team-best 15-2 in singles play, while Daniels is 12-5 — all at the No. 1 singles slot.

St. Norbert’s lineup features balance thanks to the performances of junior Josh Brown (8-5), freshman Brian Coulter (9-8), graduate student Anthony Michels (6-8), sophomore Joe Pellechia (5-7) and sophomore Adam Stacho (6-3), who is also a standout on the Green Knights’ hockey team.

Both Vandenberg and Daniels cited the opening weekend to the spring season as a big confidence booster.

“We were able to go 4-0 and beat St. Mary’s for the first time in over a decade,” Vandenberg said. “The win gave us confidence in our ability to compete with some of the strongest teams in the NACC later in the season.”

“I truly think the turning point in the season was when we started off 4-0 and I think we shocked a lot of people,” Daniels concurred.

The Green Knights opened conference play with two wins on March 18-19 and then suffered their only loss in a 6-3 setback to three-time defending NACC champion Illinois Tech on March 25.

The loss to IIT featured three three-set singles losses and a pair of 8-6 doubles defeats.

 “The boys had to get used to what it felt like to not only compete but win,” Steckart said. “Surprises are turning into expectations.”

St. Norbert rebounded to run the table in its last five conference matches.

The Green Knights gained a pair of big wins with a 5-4 win at Concordia University Wisconsin on April 1 and a 7-2 home victory over Wisconsin Lutheran College on April 2.

St. Norbert then dealt Milwaukee School of Engineering its first NACC loss with a big 6-3 road win on April 8 to move into a first-place tie and into position to win the conference title.

 “Winning a conference title validated the hard work put forth by each member of the team in and out of the season,” Vandenberg said. “Under the coaching of John Steckart and the effort given by each member of the men’s tennis team, we were able to surpass pre-season expectations.”

St. Norbert now moves on to the NACC Tournament.

The Green Knights will host a semifinal dual match on April 27 and with a win would advance to the championship match on April 30.

The winner of the NACC Tournament receives an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Tournament, which would also be another first for the Green Knights.

 “I think we have a good shot to go to the NCAA Tournament,” Daniels said. “Anything is possible and with this group of guys, I think we can do it.”

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