Golden Eagle Q&A With Niko Boulieris
July 9, 2009
MILWAUKEE- Men's tennis senior Niko Boulieris earned his third letter after a spring season that placed him among team leaders in singles wins with a 25-11 overall record. His 17 dual match wins were second on the team, behind only Dusan Medan's 20. Prior to his junior season, the Lake Forest, Ill. native claimed an ITA singles title in July 2008 and was recognized with the Sportsmanship Award. As a sophomore, Boulieris earned the Coach's Award for the best work ethic on the team. Boulieris sat down with GoMarquette.com to share his experiences on and off the tennis court over the past three seasons.
How did your strong fall season with six consecutive wins set you up for spring success?
Overall as a team, we had a successful fall season. We were all really excited to start the spring season. I think we do a good job of feeding off of each other. I think that's why I felt I could get on a nice run there. In the fall, Dusan, Mark and I - we're excited to be seniors next year - and I think that's something that helped me out last year to get on a winning streak was that we pushed each other in practice every day. Every day we're looking to get better and I think that when the team has the mindset to improve every day, there's no way you can get worse - you have to get better.
Is that a mindset that Coach Rodecap stresses?
Definitely. Coach always stresses to push each other and the intangibles. We all feed off of each other, having the heart and having the pride. We all bleed blue and gold every time we practice, and we're all laying it out on the line every match and it reflects on the way we practice.
With so many ranked opponents on the schedule last season, do you feel the team was prepared well for the BIG EAST Championship and other opponents?
With our schedule, Coach does an awesome job of scheduling tough matches every year for us. It keeps improving every year. We had a couple of ranked opponents last year - we played Nebraska, we went to Old Dominion. The BIG EAST is a tough conference with Louisville, Notre Dame and South Florida as the top three teams in the BIG EAST. I think we do a good job of not overlooking who they are, looking at the name on the jersey too much. We stress that it's a team atmosphere and I think we did a good job of laying it out on the line when we played the ranked opponents last year.
Last season, you claimed an ITA singles title against a strong field. What was that experience like?
I loved it - that was probably the happiest I've been in college tennis so far. I felt that was a big confidence boost for me, but moreso I enjoyed the fact that Marquette's name got out there. I won a singles title, and I went down there with Mark Rutherford and we got to the semifinals of doubles. It was good to get the Marquette name out there more often - more people are starting to come up to us. That was the goal, to play these college tournaments in the summer and have everybody look at Marquette and see the improvements that we're making on the tennis team.
In their prior Golden Eagle Q&A's, Mark Rutherford and Dusan Medan both touched on how the Marquette tennis program has improved over the past few years, compared to a decade or so ago. How do you think Coach Rodecap has been able to do that?
Coach has done a tremendous job of recruiting some top players, both American and international. We have Dusan and Mark from Serbia and Canada and Coach is able to get a lot of the top junior players from the U.S. Beyond recruiting, I think Coach does a really good job of being able to recruit players that mesh well with each other on the team. Anytime Coach brings in a recruit, it's always about "how does the team feel with this guy" rather than how good he is or his results. He wants to bring in recruits being able to mesh well with the leaders, so I think he does a really great job of letting the team mesh well together.
After last summer, Coach Rodecap referred to you as, "a guy who takes the summer months very seriously." What have you been working to improve this summer?
This summer, we have Dusan, Mark and myself in Milwaukee, so we're constantly working out, running and hitting with each other. We have Jonathan Schwerin, who will be a sophomore, up in Madison, so he comes down during the weekends or the week to hit with us. I know Drake Kakar and some of the other guys are playing college tournaments - the ITA tournaments in California and what not. Jacob Straus, an incoming freshman from Texas, is playing some junior level tournaments in Texas right now. I think that match play is the greatest thing, but Coach is definitely right that you have to take summer seriously and everybody feeds off of each other with the summer results.
Besides tennis, what are you doing this summer?
I'm focusing on academics, which is a Spanish class I'm in. My primary concern is trying to raise my level of play this summer a couple of notches to get ready for the fall season.
As a political science major and English minor, have you thought about what you want to do following your graduation next May?
I'm taking the LSAT in December, so hopefully law school - Marquette Law School is my first choice. On the other hand, I've spoken with Coach Martinez and Coach Rodecap about possibly pursuing tennis after college, maybe going to Europe or South America and playing some tennis after college. That's also a goal.
With the Sportsmanship Award at the ITA event last summer and the Coach's Attitude Award as a sophomore, is this demeanor something that you pride yourself on? Do you have to work on that or does it come naturally?
I considered myself a hot head coming in to Marquette. I don't think I was in the greatest mental shape I could be in, but Coach has done a really great job with me on working how to be professional. You can win titles and matches, but you have to stay professional, because now you're representing more than yourself - you're representing a bigger entity with Marquette University and your teammates. Everywhere you go, you try to win with respect and professionalism.
How big of a role does attitude have in tennis?
It's a huge aspect. When you want to win tennis matches, negativity plays a bad role in tennis, and a lot of players have a lot of negativity. I think our team is very good at staying poised and composed. In order to win matches, you have to stay poised, be professional, keep a calm head, and think through matches. Tennis is 90 percent mental, and you have to keep a calm head throughout all matches.
What were the highlights of last season for you?
It sounds weird, but the matches that we lost - Old Dominion, Harvard - were matches we put ourselves in a position to win. Those were ranked opponents and although we lost, sitting back in the hotel room after we lost, thinking that we're taking steps forward and we are progressing. Even though we lost, I can see that we're moving forward. I'm excited for next season because I think we have a legitimate shot at becoming a nationally ranked team and that's the goal.
Next year as a senior, do you feel a greater sense of urgency to be more successful and claim those extra wins?
Definitely. I've never felt the sense of urgency, to be honest, but this is my last year and my last hoorah, and I know Dusan and Mark feel the same way. We want to be good leaders to the guys coming in and we want to end our tenure at Marquette on a good note.
What part of your game do you pride yourself in most?
I pride myself in not having too much fear on the court, going for what I believe in on the court and not second guessing myself. In a larger aspect, I like to be a vocal leader for the team. When you have six guys playing at once, the best thing you can do is be vocal and show your teammates that you're pumped up and ready to play some tennis.
With Dusan, Mark and yourself graduating next May, is this a bittersweet last season?
It kind of it, but I know we're always going to stay in touch - Dusan, Mark and I. We're like brothers. Mark will stay here or go back to Canada, and same with Dusan - I don't know what is going to happen or what they want to do, but we're always going to stay in touch. I think with us playing next season, we're definitely going to give it more than we've ever given before just because we know this is our last season together.
With all the BIG EAST Championship experience the team has, do you feel more comfortable knowing that you've already been in that environment?
We definitely feel comfortable. I think that we're going out there with more grit than anything else - we're more excited and more pumped up for the BIG EAST Tournament. That's when we want to play our best tennis, at the end of the season. More than anything else, we know that this is our last season and we want to prepare the young guys coming in and teach them more than what we've learned so that they can progress in the BIG EAST Tournament. I think that experience is definitely a positive thing to have.
How have you been able to lead and set an example for the underclassmen with Dusan and Mark?
Coming in as a freshman, we had Tomek (Czernuszewicz), and then Brett Binkley and Greg Sirotek as sophomores, and junior year, Stephen Shao and Trent Hagan were the seniors. They were tremendous leaders and what I respect about them was that they always worked together for the whole of the team. Mark, Dusan and I always feed off of each other to improve the team. We know we have experience, but at the same we want the team to be able to feel comfortable that we can all feed off of each other and don't have any clash of class.
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