Pair of Talented Freshmen Ready to Make an Impact
CHICAGO – One is from the Netherlands and the other is an hour’s drive from Tobacco Road.
Their combined talent while taking divergent paths to DePaul has placed them at the forefront of an emerging men’s tennis program.
“This will be the first time that I’ll have all the guys I recruited and also started here as freshmen,” said DePaul tennis coach Matt Brothers. “For some of the transfers who came here, I was their third coach.”
Brothers wants to continue building up a program that has recorded a trio of top-four finishes at the BIG EAST Championship in the last five years including second place in 2009.
Following up a tip about a pair of Dutch tennis players, Brothers ventured to Holland and met up with Feilzer and Sten Leusink, who was rated among the top 100 players in his country.
Brothers smiled as he watched Feilzer place third in an 18U Dutch national tournament last year.
“I could tell right away Jan-Willem is going to be a good doubles player, and that’s very important to us,” Brothers said. “He has good size, a big serve, a big forehand and a very high tennis IQ. His sister played college tennis at Western Kentucky.”
Brothers signed Leusink in November of last year during his visit to campus. Graduate assistant coach Stuart Waters went to Holland earlier this summer and brought Feilzer into the fold.
“I was very happy,” Feilzer said. “It was a chance to combine sports and my studies. Sports are so huge over here, and this was a chance to be part of a team.
“Everything about DePaul is really professional. Everyone here wants to help you. There is always something to do in Chicago, and that’s what I’m used to in Amsterdam.
“Everybody at DePaul likes each other. Everyone is so nice to each other. I can’t imagine there are ever any fights or anything. It’s not like that in other parts of the world.”
Johnson was the first tennis recruit in the class of 2012 to sign with DePaul after setting a record in North Carolina by winning the state tournament four years in a row.
“He is a nationally ranked player, and I scouted him during a tournament at Virginia Tech which was also recruiting him,” Brothers said. “He made a big jump from the first time I saw him play to the beginning of his senior year. He grew in height and got stronger. All of that helped his game.”
The Blue Demons open their season Friday at the Milwaukee Tennis Classic.
“I came here in 2010 for my cousin’s wedding and fell in love with Chicago,” Johnson said. “When I found out DePaul was in Chicago, it went to the top of my list. I really liked coach Brothers, and this was a good opportunity.
“DePaul, Virginia Tech and Wofford College in South Carolina were the three schools I visited. North Carolina and Wake Forest were interested but never made an offer.
“I like the resources DePaul can provide and how the school makes use of its alumni and the city of Chicago to help students with their careers. Because there isn’t a football team, you’re treated better than at other places. I like the culture in Chicago, and I’ve always liked international things.
“In Chicago, there are the Bears, the Bulls, the Fire, the Cubs and White Sox. I love soccer. There’s so much to like about Chicago that I don’t even mind the weather---although this will be my first Chicago winter.”
Johnson is struck by the international flavor of the tennis team. Feilzer and Leusink are from Holland, Dzanko is from Croatia, Hambach’s from Germany and John hails from Canada.
“My mom’s family is from El Salvador, and I speak fluent Spanish,” Johnson said. “I’ve gone there a lot to visit my cousins and friends. I’m trying to get dual citizenship for El Salvador.
“Maybe I could play for their Davis Cup team someday. I alos want to make the Olympics in tennis.”
And just to keep the international thing going, teammate Adam Reinhart’s mom is from South Africa.
“Jan-Willem and I have known each other for two weeks and we’re already good friends,” Johnson said. “We eat together, work out together and hang out in each other’s rooms. We bought a refrigerator. We went to the men’s soccer game against Western Michigan and cheered for our guys.”
Sometime during the school year, they’re planning a mini international food fest.
“I’m going to bring back some good Dutch food after winter break,” Feilzer said as his mind wandered to some of the delicacies he is already missing from his homeland.
Johnson said he will bring back some homemade Salvadoran pupusas which is a thicker version of a tortilla stuffed with cheese, beans and meat.
Perhaps Dzanko can contribute a Croatian specialty, Hambach a German dish to pass, John a Canadian concoction and Reinhart a South African entrée.
“I’m excited for this younger team that will have opportunities to face nationally ranked teams,” Brothers said. “There is a sense of stability this season, and everyone is on the same page.”