Morningside University alumnus Alex Struck ’16, has made a strong return to his alma mater as men’s and women’s tennis coach. Since his hire in 2021, Struck has significantly expanded his roster to almost three times the size as when he arrived. His leadership last season propelled both teams to runner-up positions in the GPAC Championships. Building on that momentum, the teams boast an impeccable 5-0 record this season and have garnered attention in the NAIA national rankings—an indication of a promising future for Mustang tennis.

As a former Mustang player, Struck set records for single-season wins, earned the All-GPAC title twice, and honed his skills under M-Club Hall of Fame Coach Larry Mason ‘73.

“I’m grateful I got to play for Larry Mason. There was a lot about the game that he taught me, but he was able to teach me a lot more about life through tennis. That impacted my teaching career, and now back at Morningside, my coaching career,” Struck reflected.

In line with those lessons, Struck has established four core elements as the foundation for his team, each of which are emblazoned on the handle of four old tennis rackets: Family, Attitude, Effort, and Commitment.

“Family is the anchor of everything for our foundation,” Struck affirmed, stressing the significance of relationships over victories. “I went into teaching and coaching for relationships. It’s nice to win, obviously, but the relationships that are built within a team are what is really important, and those relationships often extend well beyond the four years at Morningside.”

This sense of unity was vivid during a recent match against Coe College, where the entire team rallied around a freshman player in a high-stakes moment, demonstrating the Mustangs’ collective spirit.  

In a 4-4 match and one flight remaining, Christian Kelly had dropped his first set 6-4 and won his second 6-4. The other singles flights were wrapping up and everyone turned their attention to supporting him. 

“There were even a couple of guys who were not in our main line-up that day who had previously been all-conference players, and they were right there cheering, too. It would have been easy for them to let resentment creep in and walk away, but the team was together on one court watching that match. Some of the loudest cheers came from people who didn’t have a spot that day,” shared Struck.

Through international recruitment efforts, Struck has also broadened the diversity of his team, which now includes 18 international students from 16 countries. The captains of the men’s team are Mark Trenkle, a junior from Lahr, Germany,  and Mikhil Raja, a sophomore from Belvedere Harare, Zimbabwe. Both are standouts on the team and appreciate the welcoming environment Struck has fostered. 

“It’s more difficult than people think being that far away from family, but when we got here we were greeted with a huge welcome sign with our names and a bag of cookies, and it was things like that helped us quickly feel welcome,” Raja said.

Struck furthers the familial atmosphere on the team by hosting dinners alongside his wife Megan Carlson) Struck ‘16, and inviting students unable to return home for holidays into his own home. Raja and Trenkle both acknowledge how much those gestures from their coach mean to them, but Struck is quick to emphasize that it is the commitment of his athletes that is worthy of being commended.

“I’ve made some airport trips to get students where we get back at 1 or 1:30 a.m. Raja and Trenkle have been there waiting at the door of the dorms to help carry bags, take them to their room, and show them around campus. Those students have traveled 14 hours and arrived in the middle of the night, and it means a lot that their teammates show up to love and support them like that. Those kinds of actions set the tone for the team,” said Struck.

The growth of international students on the tennis teams is part of a trend Morningside has been seeing over the last few years, with international students now making up a record-setting 10 percent of the total undergraduate population. That overall growth has also been helpful in making students like Raja and Trenkle feel more at home.

“For me, there are a lot of Germans on the soccer team, and sometimes it is very comfortable for me to hang out with them and fall back on my main language because I have spoken it for my whole life. But it is also good to learn and experience new things. This year we have players from every continent playing tennis. It’s cool to learn about the different cultures and get to know them,” said Trenkle. 

As the teams learn from one another off the court, they are also working together to achieve some important goals on the court. Each team hopes to clinch a conference title—a feat yet to be achieved by the men’s team and a long-awaited repeat for the women’s team.

“My goal is to try and lead the team as best as possible and give 100% both on and off the court so we can have a shot at the title. That can only be done by working together, step-by-step and day-by-day,” said Raja.

For the first time ever, Morningside will host the GPAC Tournament at First Serve Tennis Center in South Sioux City. Struck is hopeful that with the growth of the program and the successes the team has experienced, the home court advantage might also be further leveraged.

“Hosting the tournament is a huge benefit to our program,” said Struck. “I’m optimistic that we can have a lot of people there to give us energy. There can be a stereotype among people who aren’t familiar with tennis that it is a quiet game with no energy, but college tennis has a lot of juice. I encourage people to come out and experience it. As a former Mustang I know what having Mustang fans cheering me on meant, and I would love to see more of the Mustang faithful at our meets to help us continue to grow that feeling of family around our teams.”