The 2021-22 season for the ASU men's tennis team ended on a bitter note. A 4-0 sweep at the hands of Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 Championship Tournament concluded an up-and-down campaign for the Sun Devils who finished with a disappointing 9-15 record.
Going into this season, almost the whole roster has changed. The Sun Devils have gone from 11 men on the roster to seven. Usually, losing players would show signs of decline or dysfunction among the ranks. For head coach Matt Hill, it's preferred.
"I've always (coached) really small teams, to be quite honest, my whole career," Hill said. "Last year was by far the biggest team I've ever coached. There are obviously a ton of challenges that come with a lot of guys that really want to play. But you only got six spots to give."
However, the Sun Devils have brought back a chunk of their core players. Sophomore Murphy Cassone, who burst onto the college tennis scene last season, winning the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's National Rookie of the Year, is more than ready to get back on the court.
"My mindset is always just trying to improve a little bit every day," Cassone said. "I'm trying (to) not really look at the results, tournaments or rankings, and just try and focus on myself. Because, I play my best when I'm locked (in) on myself, not worrying about the opponent."
Juniors Max McKennon, Jacob Bullard and Spencer Brachman are also returning, along with sophomore Nicola Cigna. McKennon said the program is ready to turn a new leaf and that no one wants to go through last year ever again.
The Sun Devils also have two newcomers. Roi Ginat, born in Israel, and Constantinos Koshis, born in Cyprus, have come to Tempe with some pedigree. Ginat was ranked as high as 149th. Ginat, who is 21, spent time in the Israeli military before coming to ASU.
"His (Ginat) poise and composure on the court are rare. I haven't seen (him) upset on the court once," Cassone said. "It's a really good thing to have, especially in college tennis when the margins are already razor thin."
Koshis, who is called "CK" by his teammates, was ranked 67th in the International Tennis Federation junior rankings before coming to ASU.
"It just feels like a breath of fresh air," McKennon said about the new members on the roster. "I think we're all super excited. Our team chemistry, honestly, is the best it's been since my freshman year."
The team also had an extensive preseason with 12 separate events in the fall. Hill said Bullard had a fantastic three months, along with Cigna and Brachman who took big steps forward in their overall game.
"Bullard did a lot of good things like in the areas that we're wanting to see him grow," Hill said. "He's just really finding his game as well, from a high-level standpoint of his tactics and patterns that he wants to use in order to be successful."
The Sun Devils have already started off 2-0 on the year, already better than last season when ASU won one match and then lost six straight matches after. However, there seems to be a new refreshing ambiance around the Whiteman Tennis Center.
"I think a huge goal of ours is just being the best possible team we can be, day in and day out," McKennon said. "If we do all the right things, I think the light will shine."
The team heads to Waco, Texas, Friday to take on Baylor in the ITA kickoff weekend, then take on either Florida State or the University of San Diego the next day depending on the result.
Edited by Piper Hansen, Reagan Priest and Grace Copperthite.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.