For Immediate Release: September 10, 2004
Contact: John Hartrick (
Phone: 607-777-6800

Binghamton men's tennis looking for America East "three-peat"

Even to a Binghamton men’s tennis program that has historically thrived on its rock-solid success, the achievements of the last two campaigns have been truly remarkable: Back-to-back conference titles, first-ever NCAA Division I tournament berths, and a combined 33 dual match wins — all produced with two radically different lineups.

Entering his 18th full season as head coach, two-time reigning America East Coach of the Year Michael Starke has quickly built not only the premier program in the conference but one that is on the cusp of cracking the regional rankings after just three years at Division I.

As his squad prepares for the 2004-05 season, Starke has his sights set on another America East crown and that coveted regional ranking, but knows full well it will not come without great commitment and perseverance.

“Certainly giving the conference championship another run is high on our list, but as always, it will be a difficult endeavor filled with obstacles,” he said. “It is our desire to be the hardest-working team in the conference.”

If any coach and team knows the fruits of hard work, it was Starke and his 2003-04 Bearcats. That squad struggled through a lackluster early season and was saddled with the No. 3 seed entering the America East tournament. But with unmatched fitness and heart, BU stormed past No. 2 UMBC (4-1) and top-seeded Stony Brook (4-3) on back-to-back days to successfully defend its title.

The path in 2004-05 may be even more difficult, as the regionally-ranked Seawolves, who have absorbed two straight 4-3 championship losses to their younger SUNY counterparts, have significantly bolstered their lineup in a quest for the title.

Back in BU’s corner, however, are four returning starters, including the top-3, plus six talented freshmen eager to stake their claim to a starting role.

“While we lose two starters and three of our top-7, the returnees are a core group who fully embody the spirit and character of the team,” Starke said. “I am blessed to have such leaders and quality people returning, and they will play a huge role in displaying the Binghamton tradition and Bearcat spirit for the newcomers. They take this role seriously and are up to the task.”

Sky’s the limit for Hanegby
After a freshman season that only be described as brilliant, sophomore No. 1 Dan Hanegby returns to anchor the team as both its best player and now team captain.

“Dan has a burning desire to be the team leader,” Starke said. “He is sold on the team concept and will put the team success ahead of his own. On the court, he fully expects to take his game to the next level, obtaining a high regional ranking and being a threat against any opponent, not just most opponents.”

Hanegby’s initial collegiate season featured a 31-7 singles record and No. 12 ranking in the Northeast (highest ranking in BU’s Division I tenure). He was the America East Most Outstanding Player, and saved his best tennis for tournament play, advancing to the round of 16 at the prestigious ITA East Regional in the fall, and then scoring both singles and doubles wins over Stony Brook in the conference championship match in the spring.
Hanegby scored wins over four players above him in the regional rankings, and he was the highest ranked freshman on the list last spring. Seven players ranked higher were seniors, meaning a top-5 spot isn’t unreachable in 2004-05.

Steady Mourad back at No. 2
Junior Richemn Mourad returns to his spot at No. 2 singles after an excellent first year at Binghamton. The former Murray State talent won 19 singles matches and a team-best 20 doubles contests, and like Hanegby, has immense talent and desire.

Mourad’s doubles play was particularly sharp, as he secured two doubles wins for BU at the America East Championship, and earlier in the year, was “A” flight doubles runnerup at the Cornell Invitational.

O’Connor will be a strong No. 4
Junior Brian O’Connor, known for his gritty and clutch play, returns to a spot in the middle of the lineup, where he played a critical role in BU’s spring championship run.

After playing at No. 5 as a freshman, O’Connor jumped up to No. 3 last year, and went 24-9 overall. He scored a win in BU’s semifinal upset of UMBC and has amassed 42 singles wins in his first two collegiate seasons.

Classmate Edwin Gerard, who played primarily at No. 5 in 2003-04, is slowly returning from an injury and will need to work his way back into the lineup. Gerard, who like O’Connor has made a habit out of clutch play, won 16 matches a year ago and at the conference tournament, produced wins over both UMBC and Stony Brook. He has lost just once in four career America East tournament singles matches, including a 2-for-2 showing in championship matches.

O’Connor and Gerard, meanwhile, were spectacular at No. 3 doubles after being paired together in April. They went 10-1 to end the spring, including a perfect 3-0 mark at the conference tournament.

The doubles options also include senior Krishna Vallabhaneni, the team’s lone senior and four-year letterwinner. Vallabhaneni owns a 41-21 career doubles record, and remains an outstanding team leader.

Half-dozen recruits offer impact
A vastly talented group of six newcomers who will immediately push for spots in the lineup. The group represents the best collective recruiting class in Starke’s long coaching tenure, boasting four players ranked in the top 200 in the nation in 2003, and five ranked among the top 30 in the East.

“It’s a stellar recruiting class,” Starke declared. “In terms of depth, it’s my best class ever. And it’s great to bring a New York flavor back to the lineup. There’s nothing like a bunch of freshmen to bring back youthful enthusiasm to coaching.”

The influx of talent has brought a new dimension to pre-season, with as many as four singles spots and two doubles positions entirely up for grabs.

Freshman Alex Dobrin has been the shining star of the new bunch, and has quickly vaulted into the No. 3 singles spot. Dobrin was ranked No. 49 in the nation for Boys 16s, and was a two-time New York City finalist for Benjamin Cardozo High.

“The play of Alex Dobrin has been the surprise thus far,” Starke said. “His on court efforts this past summer, playing in all the national junior 18 and under events has served him well. He is hitting sharp, extremely steady and is quick of foot. Alex arrived in better shape and more ready than the other freshmen.”

Freshman Faisal Mohamed has also earned a starting singles spot with an impressive pre-season. A former Nassau County finalist and state quarterfinalist for Lynbrook High, he was ranked No. 17 in the ETA in singles and No. 1 in doubles. Mohamed is an explosive player who strikes the ball with authority.

“Faisel has been very impressive in practice,” Starke said. “He has a big time game and technically sound strokes.”

Twin brothers Tony and Mark Piro also could find their way into the singles and doubles rotation before long.
Tony Piro has the most credentials of the newcomers, but his pre-season has been slowed by an injury. An excellent doubles player, Tony has worked with Mourad at the No. 2 spot, while continuing to climb the singles ladder.

A scholastic All-American, Tony was ranked as high as No. 8 in the Eastern Tennis Association Boys 18s, and captured the state singles title as a junior.

Mark Piro, who like Tony played six years of varsity tennis at Shenendehowa High, advanced to the state semifinals, and was ranked No. 18 in the ETA. He has initially secured a starting role at No. 6 singles.

The talent level barely drops off to newcomers Jon Bonnet and Jordan Smith, who round out this impressive class.

Five ranked teams on schedule
Like in past years, Starke’s schedule features a handful of fall matches, invitationals hosted by Cornell and Bloomsburg, and the more lengthy spring schedule leading up to the America East Championship, April 29-May 1 at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven.

The spring slate has been upgraded to include five regionally-ranked teams (No. 7 Cornell, No. 8 Army, No. 9 Columbia, No. 13 St. John’s and No. 14 Stony Brook). In addition, BU will face traditional in-state rivals Colgate, St. Bonaventure and Buffalo. Back-to-back mid-April matches against Stony Brook and UMBC will determine seeding and confidence levels heading into the conference championship.

Regional recognition a priority
In addition to retaining its America East crown, Binghamton would like to break into the Northeast regional rankings, which traditionally are dominated by the likes of Virginia Tech, Penn State and the Ivy League. Starke sees that as the next logical step in his program’s Division I development.

“We want to gain a regional ranking,” he admitted. “Failure to do so would be a disappointment.”

The bar has been set high indeed, pushed upward by an unprecedented level of recent accomplishments. Starke is eager for his squad to undertake the new challenges of 2004-05.

“We want to be the best we can be, and that will mean working day-in, day-out as hard as we can on individual improvement and team chemistry.”

Based on past practice, that is a proven formula for success.



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