Lone CSI senior Riad Hamai will be expected to help lead a young team's charge for a title in 2012

Having concluded its recent swing in Orlando, Florida, the College of Staten Island men’s tennis squad is looking to return to top form in 2012, armed with recent successes and a fresh roster that includes six new faces.  The team will get the regional portion of its schedule underway this evening, when they take on St. Joseph’s College – LI, in non-conference play on the road at 7pm.

Keeping up with the norm will be a tall order for the Dolphins, who enter 2012 on the heels of a program-best 16-win season in 2011, finishing 16-5 and as a CUNYAC Tournament Semifinalist.  The team popped off an 11-game win skein in the process that year, finishing 7-1 in conference play during the regular season frame.  The Dolphins are undergoing a transformation in the process, losing players like Patrick Thomas, Joe Taranto, Gary Ambartsumov, Masaru Takaki, and Georgio Dano – all anchors for several seasons and responsible for the upswing of CSI tennis teams in recent history.  For sixth-year Head Coach Paul Ricciardi, the losses of talent and leadership will certainly take its toll.

“It’s always hard to lose players, but those guys set the culture for tennis here at CSI and we have a team that embraces that and will be ready to go,” he said.  “We’ve done well in the past in this area and we expect that to continue.”

The future, however, does look bright for the Dolphins, as the team returns three starters, including 2011 CUNYAC Rookie of the Year Nicholas Zikos, who enjoyed a stellar rookie season primarily in the pole position.  Fellow Sophomore Daniel Ursomanno comes into the 2012 campaign with the team captaincy under his wings, while senior Riad Hamai has been entrenched in the starting lineup from day one, and figures to resume his role in the middle of the order.  According to Ricciardi, the trifecta is what will anchor the team in 2012.

“We will lean on our returning guys tremendously, both on and off of the court,” Ricciardi said.  “We had a great season last year but still fell short of our overall goal and those guys are extremely motivated.  That will help propel us further.”

That said CSI is eagerly awaiting the performance of its bounty of new talent.  Most notable is Filip Bubalo, a Swedish import, who as a freshman should anchor in towards the top of the order, with plenty of upside on the horizon.  Freshmen Oscar Wu and Austin Kapetankis will jockey for time at Nos. 5-6 positions, while Dmitriy Vituk and Matthew Soshtak are late additions that could provide the depth and quality to make CSI a strikingly complete team.  Not to be outdone, senior Vladislav Romanov, CSI’s four-time NCAA All-American in swimming will join the ranks fresh out of the pool, adding to the championship pedigree and diverse makeup of the team.

“Right now our new talent is battling and they are all going to try to figure into the mix,” Ricciardi said.  “They all have strengths and weakness and they all improving and that’s what’s important.   Florida showed us a lot of what it takes to transition from the high school to the college level.  Our new players are catching on to that, and we’re excited to see who steps up and rises to that challenge.”

All told, although CSI will be young, Ricciardi expects the team to be strong, and nothing less than a run at the CUNYAC title will satisfy the group as it plows through the 2012 season.

“The legitimate goal is to win a (CUNYAC) championship,” the coach said.  “We don’t have the ability to shut people down but if we come into matches ready to compete we feel we can beat anyone, and that’s the start of a championship team.  Our guys are learning that it takes a lot of intensity to win in our conference and we have to do it in a short amount of time.  If we rise up to that type of challenge, we will be ready to take home a title.”

Notable games on the schedule this year include an early-season CUNYAC opener against Brooklyn College (March 25, 1pm @ CSI), a rematch of last year’s CUNYAC Quarterfinal, and a pair of National Tennis Center matches against Baruch College (March 27, 3:30pm) and Hunter College (April 5, 3:30pm).  The CUNYAC Championship begins on April 25 at host campuses, with Semifinals and Final round play at the National Tennis Center on April 29 and May 5, respectively.