There has been a recurring theme in the past few years with the College of Staten Island men’s tennis squad. The team has been on a doorstep of a CUNYAC Championship for half of a decade, but just can’t seem to break through and earn their bid into the NCAA Division III National Tournament. This year, the Dolphins are on familiar ground, ready to make 2013 their promised year. Will it happen in 2013? The Dolphins will answer their first test on Thursday, part of a four-game swing in Orlando, Florida, as part of spring training. According to head coach Paul Ricciardi, this year’s Dolphins are amped for the challenge.
“We are very excited to have the opportunity to play tennis every day in ideal conditions,” said Ricciardi, whose team has had to settle mostly for indoor workkouts to this point. “Getting started this way really helps us focus on the realities of what is ahead.”
For one thing, the Dolphins will be tested. The team faces off against regional power Mount Saint Mary College to begin their trip at 4pm on Thursday, then a doubleheader on Friday before finalizing their trip on Monday against Wheaton College (Illinois). Beyond that, the Dolphins schedule is littered with regional powers, including the CUNYAC’s Baruch College, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, John Jay College, all teams that have stood in the Dolphins’ way of a championship during this recent five-year stretch.
“Our goal is always to win or contend for a championship,” tells Ricciardi. “We try to pack our schedule with lots of talent beginning with Florida, and hopefully it makes us better and more prepared as we go.”
CSI has confidence, however, in large part due to a lineup that sees plenty of returning talent and the infusion of a freshman class that is one of the best in some time. The team is well positioned at the top with the likes of junior Nicholas Zikos, and newcomers Timur Shamuradov and Hector Molina who all could battle for the top spot. They combine with a wealth of depth, beginning with captain Daniel Ursomanno, who should be locked into the No. 4 slot, to make CSI’s lineup one of the most formidable in years.
“We have a great mix of kids this year and our depth will help us stay competitive, even in practice,” said Ricciardi. “The key for us will be to stay aggressive in doubles and use our conditioning to outlast and outwork our competition in singles. We really want to make that our priority this season. We play a lot of tennis in a very short amount of time and how we finish is more important than how we start.”
Of course, talent only gets you so far. For the team to be successful enough to claim a title, Ricciardi believes the team will need to show cohesion while promoting competition amongst each other. That drive will translate to when CSI faces off against its 2013 opponents. For Ricciardi, he hopes that in an individual sport like tennis, it will be a team concept that keeps the ball rolling.
“We have a lot of new faces and one of the things we are still developing is our cohesiveness in playing together, and working together towards a common goal, explained Ricciardi. “It’s one of the reasons why we are excited about our trip. The make-up of our team is such that we call all push each other. The drive to win for your teammate, coupled with their drive for the same reasons, is what can really get us to excel, and we are counting on that dynamic.”
In all, Ricciardi is not taking a “championship or bust” philosophy into the season, but anything short of ending the conference with a “W” will surely put a damper on what the coach hopes will be a magical year.
“For this season to be successful, I would really like to see some of our individual players reach their goals and continue to climb and improve,” the coach said. “From there, the team success will follow suit. It’s amazing to see how our players improve from year to year, and seeing that transition is gratifying as a coach. I think if we continue to see that, we can do some great things this season.”
CSI will open up the home portion of its season on March 20, a conference date with perennial powers Hunter College at 3:30pm. The conference tournament will start in late-April, culminating with the CUNYAC Championship at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY. All CSI home games are FREE of charge and PG CLUE Certified for all students.