Goss: Hungarian imports lead Lewis women’s tennis team
May 11, 2012 11:12PM
Zsofia Kranczicki, Lewis tennis. | Supplied photo
Updated: June 14, 2012 8:15AM
Not that many years ago, Brett Bridel was living his dream as the women’s tennis coach at Southern Illinois-Carbondale.
But there was a problem.
“My wife (Lori) hated it,” he said. “She is from the Chicago suburbs and wanted to stay here. I was five hours away. It was not a good situation for our family.”
Then the women’s and men’s positions opened at Lewis, and Bridel was hired in January 2007. A program in need of renovation — the Flyers were 2-14 as recently as the 2007-08 season — had found the man for the job.
His first order of business was to recruit good players.
“My first recruit at SIU was a Hungarian girl, and she told me about two girls who were at another school in Hungary and wanted to come to the United States,” Bridel said. “I flew to Hungary and saw them play. They said they wanted to come here. We went through the process of getting them accepted and cleared by the NCAA, and here they are.”
Sophomores Zsofia Lanstiak and Zsofia Kranczicki now sit atop the Lewis lineup and have led the charge that has carried the Flyers to new heights. They won the Midwest Regional two weeks ago at Challenge Fitness Club in Lockport, their first regional championship, to advance to the NCAA Division II Spring Festival in Louisville, Ky., where they will take on Columbus State in the Sweet Sixteen at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“This has been an amazing season and it’s a great accomplishment for our team,” Bridel said.
The story is even more intriguing when you consider the Flyers (24-2 in duals with a 13-match winning streak) have done it with six players, basically no reserves.
“We had injuries and one player decided to quit,” Bridel said. “Fortunately, we have six who have been healthy all year.”
In addition to Lanstiak and Kranczicki, the Lewis roster consists of seniors Bayley Brown (Evansville, Ind.) and Katie Hargrove (O’Fallon), sophomore Kendra Mills (York) and freshman Brianna Markgraf (Rockford Boylan).
“We have two seniors, but otherwise we are really young,” Bridel noted. “Going to the Sweet Sixteen will be a really cool experience, especially for our seniors.”
Lanstiak, who is 23-0 at No. 1 singles and 36-2 overall, was named the GLVC and Midwest Region Player of the Year. Kranczicki, the GLVC Freshman of the Year in 2011, is 23-0 at No. 2 singles and 35-5 overall. The two have combined for an 18-2 doubles record.
They are roommates, and both have been nominated for the Academic All-America Team.
“We knew each other a little over there (Hungary),” said Lanstiak, a psychology major with a 3.77 GPA. “I had seen her playing tennis. Especially in my first year here, it was a big help to have someone to talk to.”
This season, Lanstiak and Kranczicki feel right at home. Bridel, 49, is a big part of that.
“Coach is fun,” Lanstiak said, a statement verifiable from watching a few minutes of practice. “He is unique. Sometimes he is more like a friend than a coach. He helps me with everything. He has a way about him that he can push us really hard.”
Lanstiak smiled when she recalled her first meeting with Bridel in Hungary.
“I was nervous, really nervous,” she said. “That was my dream, to come here and study and play tennis.”
“When I saw those two play, I thought we could become the top team in the conference and region, and we have done that,” Bridel said. “The way they conduct themselves on the court rubs off on our other players. It lifts everyone up.
“They were 1 and 2 in the region last year. I’d say they are doing OK.”
After winning the regional two weeks ago, Lewis jumped from No. 47 to No. 22 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Division II Women’s Poll. Sweet Sixteen foe Columbus State is No. 7.
“It would be awesome to win the first match,” Lanstiak said. “We need to play our best, win the first one and then see what happens.”
“The girls tell me that I said early in the season that we would be going to the Sweet Sixteen,” Bridel said. “I don’t remember that, but I thought we could compete for the conference if we played our game.”
Before his season at SIU, Bridel enjoyed a successful run as the men’s and women’s tennis coach at College of DuPage. His men’s team was the undefeated NJCAA Division III national champion in 2003 and ’04 and the women’s team finished second in ’04 after reaching the nationals in ’03.
Coaching experience for the 1999 University of Alabama graduate also includes a year as a graduate assistant women’s coach at Alabama and three years as a volunteer assistant women’s coach at Florida State.
“I’ve been around and seen teams at higher levels,” Bridel said. “D-II has very good tennis. The top D-II teams are as good as many D-I teams. We saw a lot of great competition last fall playing D-I teams.
“I don’t think we’re slouches here.”
Not when you have Lanstiak and Kranczicki leading the way.