The College of Staten Island men’s tennis program has had a recent history of success, and is looking to parlay that into a prosperous campaign in 2011. On the heels of back-to-back CUNYAC Regular Season Championships, the Dolphins were semifinalists in postseason tournament play two years ago before making it to the Final a year ago, but the frustration of being left on the doorstep of a national tournament appearance over the last two seasons are making the Dolphins hungrier for something more this season, and the team will enter the campaign with feelings of unfinished business.
“We definitely are looking towards winning a CUNYAC Championship,” said fifth-year Head Coach Paul Ricciardi. “Anything short at this point would be a disappointment because we’ve gotten ourselves to a point to expect the best results.”
The good feelings coming in are born from the return of a solid foundation built for winning. CSI did graduate two-time defending CUNYAC Player of the Year in Konstantin Trofimovich, but Ricciardi feels the new version of the Dolphins is deeper and stronger at the middle and bottom of the lineup. In a conference that awards points for six singles flights and three doubles flights, that type of depth will be called upon often enough.
“We have a real good mix of experience and youth and its spread throughout the lineup,” Ricciardi said.
Battling it out for top honors on the squad will be second year junior Patrick Thomas and incoming freshman Nicholas Zikos, who are expected to push each other for the top spot and will make for an extremely viable option at No. 2 Singles. From there, the Dolphins are all about depth, with any one of a number of players stepping up to play No. 3, 4, 5 and even six.
“The beauty of our lineup is that the opponent who plays our No. 5 is going to have just a tough of a time playing our No. 3 and vice versa,” tells Ricciardi. “We have parity there but with different attacks and styles, even at No. 6, and that will frustrate our opponents.”
Senior Joseph Taranto, flanked with junior Riad Hamai and Japanese exchange student Masaru Takaki will all battle for those three positions, setting up an even bigger heat for the final singles spot and positioning with doubles. Seniors Gary Ambartsumov and Bobby Hargraves are the logical point-people for the job, as is graduate student Georgia Dano, who returns to the Dolphins after missing the entire 2010 campaign. That trio will be pushed by frosh Daniel Ursomanno and Ronietto Dela Cruz for time on the court.
For Ricciardi, the lineup is a blessing and a problem worth having.
“We have a unique combination of guys battling for positions who have the experience and the competitive fire already within them, alongside fresh perspectives and new energy level by our younger players. It’s a great mix,” said Ricciardi
Never one to carry high numbers, Ricciardi feels his units are more about quality than quantity, and the most important facet of the team is its camaraderie, often working together to fundraise and play tennis year-round sans coaches.
“We are definitely one unit and one team. Whether its community service or fund-raising, we have done a lot with one another and everyone is on the same page,” he said. “I’m very happy with the positivity.”
Alongside the player morale, Ricciardi has also mixed in the rigors of a heavily-competitive schedule designed to get his teams ready for the heavy grind in a short amount of time. The team begins the road this week in Orlando, Florida, for a four-game in four-day swing in the sun. The team kicks off with a Thursday tilt against Western New England at 1pm. On Friday the Dolphins take on Otterbein College before concluding with a Sunday doubleheader against North Central College and Grinnell College. CSI will kick off the CUNYAC and home portion of their schedule with a March 24 date against New York City College of Technology, at 3:30pm.