After the Gophers' men's tennis team lost both their No. 1 and No. 2 singles players to graduation a year ago, Josip Krstanovic knew his role during his senior season was going to increase drastically.
"We lost two really good guys last year. ... I knew the coaches wanted me to play high in the lineup, so I approached the season that way," Krstanovic said.
Krstanovic is the team's No. 1 singles player and he has come along way since first arriving to campus from Croatia in 2015. Like anyone moving to a new country, there were some culture differences to adjust to early on. But even though he came from halfway across the world to play tennis, he said it did not last long.
"It really was a bit of a culture shock, but I think it took me maybe a month to get used to it all," he said.
Krstanovic said his teammates were a major part to his getting accustomed to the United States, specifically fellow senior Marino Alpeza. Alpeza and Krstanovic have known each other since they were teenagers and even took their official visits to the University together.
"I had my teammates to help me so much my freshman year," Krstanovic said. "I'm forever going to be grateful for that."
The Zagreb, Croatia, native is one of many international players on the team. He said one good thing for him is that he is surrounded by other student athletes from Eastern Europe. He said they all understand each other and have the bonus of speaking their native tongue to each other.
"I'm pretty much speaking my home language every day, because [Vlad Lobak and Alpeza] are my roommates," Krstanovic said.
Alpeza said that having Krstanovic along for the last four years has been mutually beneficial.
"We help each other a lot both on and off the court," Alpeza said. "We both bring something to the table that the other needs."
Aside from his transition to the United States, Krstanovic has taken advantage of his time as the Gophers' top single player this season. He has earned a 13-6 record and was ranked as high as No. 47 nationally in singles as of March 17.
"Its been going really well so far, and this is the best start I've had in all of my years," Krstanovic said.
Krstanovic credited the training that happened during the winter in Florida for his growth and for creating some stability and consistency at the No. 1 singles spot.
"[Being in Florida] for our winter preseason training was really good and I think everyone improved a lot," Krstanovic said. "Just being stable and consistent has really helped me this year."
The other thing that stands out to many is Krstanovic's serve.
"Good serves, he's tough to deal with and he's steady on the ground," said head coach Geoff Young. He said when Krstanovic is serving with power and force, that's often enough to win matches.
As the Gophers' prepare to face off against Penn State on Friday, Krstanovic will be preparing but also enjoying his final season.
"[I] enjoy it as much as I can, and not worry too much about the result," Krstanovic said. "Obviously fighting on the court for every point and staying bold and strong is what gets the best results."