Iowa tennis, with new players, ready for new experience

Four Hawkeyes will make their fall débuts in the Bobby Bayliss Invitational.


Lily Smith

Iowa’s Jason Kerst returns the ball against Creighton at the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex on Feb. 16. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bluejays, 7-0.

Cody Smith, Sports Reporter

The Hawkeye men’s tennis team’s fall season has begun but not for some players.

Iowa players Jason Kerst, Morgan Lohan, Oliver Okonwo, and Nikita Snezhko will make their fall-season débuts today, competing in the Bobby Bayliss Invitational in South Bend, Indiana.

The tournament will be held today through Oct. 7 at the Eck Tennis Pavilion on the Notre Dame campus.

Besides making their first fall appearance, freshmen Snezhko and Okonwo will also compete in their first college matches as Hawkeyes.

“Everyone’s first match it going to be tough,” Okonwo said. “I think it will be a shock to the system, but I hope I can adapt well and compete.”

Okonwo comes to Iowa with plenty of experience, dominating in the UK. Overseas, Okonwo earned a top-20 spot in the UK’s U16 rankings and won the Aegon Winter County Cup in 2016. He also earned two runner-up finishes in the 2016 and 2017 British National Championships in doubles.

Additionally, when he was 18, playing in his junior circuit career, he was the No. 8 player in the UK

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“Playing in the UK is really different from here in the United States,” Okonwo said. “Everyone in the U.S. can play at a high level. I think the intensity here is way higher, and it’s a lot more demanding, especially when you have to keep up with school.”

Snezhko comes into the fall season fresh off a No. 2 rank playing in Minnesota during his high-school career, where he also took third at the state tournament.

“It’s going to be a good experience for me being a freshman,” said Snezhko. “This weekend will be a good chance to see how I compare against other elite college athletes.”

Along with the freshmen, Iowa will send junior Kerst and sophomore Lohan to South Bend. Kerst comes in after an impressive sophomore campaign in which he posted a 7-3 record, giving him 19 wins in his Hawkeye career. Lohan will begin his sophomore season after competing in six singles and four doubles matches at N.C. State a season ago.

Given that these players are some of the more inexperienced Hawkeyes on the roster, it will be a good time for them to get in the swing of things.

“It’ll be good to just go out there and play my game,” Okonwo said. “I have confidence when I’m on the court, and I want to see how much damage I can do on the court without damaging myself in the process.”

The invitational is the Hawkeyes’ third meet of the fall season. They are coming off appearances at the Milwaukee Tennis Classic and the All-American Championships.

This is a big step for some of Iowa’s younger players, being featured at a meet for the first time. The experience they can gain will give them a good sense of what to expect when the spring season heats up the nets.

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