Sac State men’s tennis continues struggle of recruiting U.S. players

Coaches optimistic about future of program


Jordan Latimore

Freshmen Rudolfs Aksenoks and Jan Silva fist bumping during their doubles set against Saint Mary’s Friday, March 12, at the Sac State tennis courts. The men’s tennis team lost the match 4-1.

Colin Madigan

Taking a look at Sac State’s men’s tennis roster, it might seem abnormal that a majority of their players are from overseas, but actually every men’s tennis team in the Big Sky Conference this year has a majority of overseas players on their roster, excluding Montana State, who only has four overseas players on their ten-person roster. 

According to, tennis has the highest percentage of foreign student athletes competing of any NCAA sport. This season alone, overseas students make up 63% of NCAA Division I men’s tennis teams.

For multiple seasons, overseas players have held the majority of slots on the men’s tennis roster at Sac State.

Sac State men’s tennis head coach Kevin Kurtz and assistant coach Mikus Losbergs are both equally involved with the recruitment for the team, according to Kurtz. Kurtz was an assistant coach with the team for 12 years and is now in his fourth year as head coach. Losbergs was a player for the men’s tennis team from 2015 to 2019 and joined the staff as assistant coach following the 2019 season. 

“Recruiting is very important for college sports overall,” Losbergs said. “I would say the recruiting is probably 60 to 70% of the success and that’s why it is so important.”

According to Kurtz, a “no recruiting off-campus’ ban due to COVID” has made recruitment difficult. Kurtz said Sac State has had to adjust their recruitment style because of the pandemic; he said it’s mostly “data-oriented.” Coaches look at videos, talk to players over the phone, as well as look at their match results against other players. 

Even without the pandemic, it is still difficult for the coaches to recruit players from the U.S.

“We’ve emailed and called a lot of the top California kids, a few of them are getting back to us, [but] not that many, [so] we have to keep going down the line,” Kurtz said. 

There are a lot of good players coming from California, Kurtz said, but it’s difficult to recruit them because sometimes a player from the U.S. would rather play at a private school, even if their position is worse.

“The tough thing is sometimes a kid from California or from the U.S. might rather go to a private school and play number 5 or 6 [than] come to us and play 1 or 2,” he said.

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Head Coach Kein Kurtz and Assistant Coach Mikus Losbergs watch over warm ups as the Sac State men’s tennis team prepares to take on Northern Arizona Wednesday, March 17 at the Sac State tennis courts. Sac State went on to lose the match 4-3.
(Colin Madigan)


According to Losbergs, this difficulty in recruiting U.S. talent is the reason for the lopsided roster.

“One of the reasons we get so many international guys is because it’s hard to recruit the top players from California,” Losbergs said. “Unfortunately a lot of the top guys, the five star recruits or blue chip recruits, they want to go to Stanford, San Diego, Santa Barbra, USC, Berkeley. It’s tough to compete with their facilities and also the academic level of those schools.”

While COVID and trying to compete with more well-known programs have made it difficult to recruit players from the U.S. to Sac State, another issue is that the men’s tennis team has been on probation for the past three years. 

A report published back in 2018 by the NCAA stated that the men’s and women’s Sac State tennis programs were to be put on a three-year probation. According to the report, one reason leading to the infracture was that the university failed to monitor former Sac State Director of Tennis Bill Campbell’s coaching and recruiting activities. 

RELATED: Sac State tennis program placed on 3-year probation following NCAA violations

Campbell, according to the report, consistently offered student-athletes and recruits housing arrangements, free tennis lessons and access to the Rio del Oro Racquet Club. The probation lifts April 18 this year. 

Losbergs said the probation was a major setback that made it more difficult for the coaches to recruit local players, but with the ban lifting Losbergs is hopeful that their recruitment of players from California and the rest of the U.S. will ramp up.

“Hopefully now that we are out of probation by April it’s going to be better, easier for us to recruit California players, because we want Californian players, or players from America (in general),” Losbergs said. 

Even with the difficulties that the coaches face when it come to recruiting domestic players, they are still able to successfully recruit overseas players. 

Losbergs, who is originally from Latvia originally, spoke about his love for California and how it is an ideal destination for overseas players. 

“A lot of guys from overseas want to come to California just because it’s California,” he said.

The lure of California was also one of the reasons why freshmen Mark Keki and Rudolfs Aksenoks decided to bring their talents to Sac State. 

Mark Keki, a payer on the men’s tennis team who is originally from Hungary, said he had no plans of playing in the cold when he was choosing where to come play in the U.S.

“Temperature is really important to me, being in a sunny, good place, because I was offered a lot of places that were super cold,” Keki said. “I was like ‘Nah, I’m not going to go there.’”

Even though Aksenoks received offers from other colleges across the U.S., Sac State was the only school from California to make him an offer. 

“One of the things that made me seriously consider Sac State definitely was the location,” Aksenoks said. “It was the only location from California so that was already from the start what made me interested.”

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While the sun was a huge factor, Keki said he was also impressed with the academic opportunities  that Sac State had to offer. He said he doesn’t plan on playing pro tennis after college, so finding a college that had a strong tennis program but was equally as strong academically was a big selling point. 

The same went for Aksenoks. He said he was excited to have the opportunity to come to California, but one of the things that went into making the choice to pick Sac State was when he was able to see the campus, as well as when he learned more about the business classes and programs it had to offer. 

Even with all the setbacks that recruiting has faced, the coaches are still positive on the outlook for their team and have goals that they believe are attainable with this program. 

“I feel like we have the potential over here to get the national ranking and that’s what we’re going for,” Losbergs said.