The College of Staten Island women’s tennis program not only have the pedigree of having won the CUNYAC Championship for the past two years, but the team is returning nearly all of its talent from yesteryear to its 2015 installment, and the team fully expects to be in the discussion once again in 2015 under new coach Arthur Kapetanakis. The coach joined the team in the spring, when the Dolphins participated in the NCAA National Championship Tournament, and going through his first full offseason and into his first official competitive year, optimism reigns high.
“I would have to say we are all pretty optimistic knowing we have a lot of players returning and some new faces who can all play key roles,” the coach stated. “The goal will be the same all season, and that is to make sure we are a better team in late October than when we start and hopefully that can help us to a three-peat.”
There is reason to be excited. Seniors Sabrina Bragerton-Nasert and Madiha Mulla return as the anchors to the squad, infusing leadership with exceptional play near the top of the lineup. The two combined for a 14-2 Doubles record and individually were a combined 29-3 Singles. Number one singles ace Nozima Toshpulatova is returning for her junior season, likewise having enjoyed a terrific 2014. Together with junior Michelle Kushnir, who clinched the championship with a dramatic come-from-behind performance in last year’s Final, and Viktoriya Volkova, CSI has quite the foundation.
“It’s going to be a huge advantage for us,” Kapetanakis said. “Our seniors and the returning talent we have are tremendous leaders and are extensions of the coaching staff in many ways. It is important to have everyone on the team moving in the same direction and our returning players, who are all very talented, also give us that dedication and leadership that good teams need to be successful.”
Kapetanakis is keen on his returners getting the job done again in 2015. Alongside the already embedded talent they show, Kapetanakis is incredibly impressed with the improvement levels all of his returners continue to show.
“As good as we have been I think everyone recognizes that there is room to grow,” the coach stated. “I want us to get better in doubles, to play aggressive and attack more and I think our fitness can improve and become our greatest advantage. When you can walk on to a court and know you can outlast your opponent, it is a tremendous advantage, and I think all of our players know that and look to improve that fitness with every practice.”
If there was a weakness to the Dolphins’ team a year ago it was the lack of depth on the squad. Last year’s CSI team boasted just seven consistent players, and the team was often a beat away from not being able to field a full lineup, and correct conditioning and recovery attempts were instrumental. That same holds true in 2015. With a collection of new faces this year, CSI is looking to bolster the depth it has sometimes lacked and that will mean a lot in an abridged season that sees a lot of tennis being played. Kapetanakis is hoping to see a lot from sophomore Jonaldy Edouard, who joined the team in the spring as a raw but incredibly athletic player who adds power and speed at the bottom of the lineup, and freshman Sam Mazur, a Susan Wagner High School grad who can step in and battle for a starting position.
“We will have a little more depth and what that does is internally create competition that will make us that much better,” said Kapetanakis. “I think we will be stronger at the bottom of our lineup this year, and we can feel comfortable knowing we can sometimes shuffle our lineup, especially during the weeks when we are playing a lot of tennis.”
Keeping the competitive bar high will be the focus in 2015. CSI will likely be targeted as a preseason favorite, and they are well aware the pressure and bullseye will be placed on their backs from the get-go. Kapetanakis is counting on that pressure to lift the Dolphins to greater heights in 2015. His focus will be to keep motivation at its all-time high, and keep CSI as one of the local and regional powers on the courts.
“I think the fact that we have two seniors who have made it very clear that they want to continue our level of success and the fact that we feel we can do a better job at the National level, will keep that motivation level high,” the coach noted. “I think the 5-0 loss last year (to Ithaca in the National Tournament) was very deceptive. There is a definite feeling that we can make up that ground with a more cohesive unit that that is better prepared. That is our goal this year.”
CSI will embark on the 2015 campaign on September 1, when they travel to face Yeshiva University for an 8pn opener. They open up at home on September 4 against Sarah Lawrence College at 4pm, right before their CUNYAC opener against Brooklyn College on September 10. A rematch of last year’s CUNYAC Final with Hunter takes place at CSI on September 23 at 1pm. The season finalizes with the CUNYAC Tournament which begins on October 23 and end on October 27 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.