Bulls Primed For Quest As MAC Men's Tennis Tournament Gets Underway
BUFFALO, NY – They have made it through the regular season with another Mid-American Conference title but for the University at Buffalo's men's tennis team the journey won't be over until the Bulls are able to hoist the tournament championship trophy over their heads.
The Bulls earned a first-round bye for the MAC Tournament and will play their first match on Friday, April 27 against the winner of the match between fourth-seeded Ball State and fifth-seeded Toledo, a rematch of the 2011 title match. It's the second time in the last three seasons that the Bulls have gained the tournament's top seed. In 2010, the Bulls went undefeated in MAC play in the regular season with a 5-0 mark. The Bulls were 4-1 in the MAC in 2012 and shared the title with Northern Illinois, however UB gained the tiebreaker based on their 5-2 win over the Huskies on April 15.
UB (10-9, 4-1 MAC) started the regular season schedule sluggishly as the Bulls were 1-7. Included in the stretch were a pair of consecutive 4-3 losses at home to Cleveland State and on the road at Penn. But midway through their trip to South Carolina when the Bulls were at their low point, head coach Lee Nickell made changes in the singles and doubles lineup which provided the momentum to win nine of the next 11 matches and claim their second league regular season title.
"I am very proud of the way the guys have responded especially after starting the season 1-7," said Nickell. "Through hard work and discipline we dug ourselves out of that hole to win the MAC regular season title."
The key to UB's recent success has been jumping out to an early lead by winning the opening doubles point. The Bulls won the point in all nine of their victories after March 10. UB's number two tandem of Wojciech Starakiewicz and Travis Zappia went 9-1 in the dual contests, winning all five of their MAC contests.
UB's top four singles players also enjoyed great success during the regular season, including winning 17 of 19 matches against league foes.
Freshman Damien David went 25-7 (5-0 MAC) this season playing first singles. His 25 wins are the most for any player in a single season in school history bettering the 24 triumphs by Nikesh Singh Panthlia in 2008. Junior Vusa Hove, a second-team All-MAC honoree in 2011, also scored a 20-win regular season with a 21-5 record. At second singles, Hove went 14-1, winning his last 11 contests and posting an undefeated MAC record at 5-0. Playing at number three, Starakiewicz, a two-time All-MAC First Team recipient won a career-best 18 matches in 2012 in his senior campaign. Freshman Ivan Vereshchaga was 4-1 against MAC foes while posting an 8-5 record in the number four slot. The bottom portion of the lineup, senior Alex Kalinin at number five and the platoon tandem of sophomores Yevgeniy Jason Shkodnik and Zappia also provided the Bulls with several important wins during the regular season. Kalinin has earned All-MAC Tournament honors in the previous two seasons.
It won't be a cakewalk for the Bulls as five of the league's six members ended the regular season with winning records and have legitimate credentials to claim the league's championship and the automatic berth in the NCAA Championships.
"The MAC Tournament will be very intense this year. There are five teams who can win and it will come down to the most mentally tough team," stated Nickell. "We are confident in our preparation and plan on playing our best tennis this weekend."
The Bulls will play Friday at 10:00 am. The championship match is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Saturday.