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Phenom Rao leads talented Bearcats in pursuit of America East crown
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The Rao era has officially begun.

In just one semester, India native Akshay Rao arrived on campus, took over BU’s top singles and doubles spots, and instantly raised the skill level and expectations for Binghamton’s young Division I program.

Now in his first full year with the program, the sophomore Rao is still turning heads and drawing praise from head coach Michael Starke. Binghamton’s 16-year mentor has certainly seen his share of elite tennis players, but is understandably emotional when describing his number one player.

“Akshay is the team franchise,” Starke said. “He has an incredible game, an engaging personality, and quite simply is the best tennis player to ever don a BU uniform.”

Rao ended his first spring season with a 14-5 mark and America East All-Conference honors. He posted victories over St. Bonaventure, Stony Brook and Marist, and went undefeated in both singles and doubles matches at the America East Championship. His weapons are many, and his potential is limitless.

“He has an explosive forehand and a deadly slice backhand,” Starke said. “He has pinpoint accuracy on all shots, and possesses incredible concentration skills. Akshay does not give out free points, and also is in great shape. We are hopeful he will earn a regional ranking this year.”

Davidoff, Sherwood, Spencer hold down Nos. 2-4 in lineup

Senior Brad Davidoff, the team’s captain and reigning MVP, will take over the No. 2 singles spot. Davidoff produced an outstanding junior year, going 21-6 and earning America East All-Conference honors for his undefeated performance at the conference championship.

“Brad is a consummate competitor,” Starke said. “His spirit and demand for personal excellence is contagious — that’s why he will be a great captain.”

Senior Brad Sherwood, an imposing presence at 6-foot-5, has raised the level of his game, and will likely move up from the fourth to third spot in the singles lineup. In addition, Sherwood will team with Rao on Starke’s top doubles unit.

“Brad has vastly improved,” Starke said. “He has a huge serve, and is much more consistent than ever. His serve, improved baseline play and heart give him a chance to beat almost any player in the region at the 3-4 slot.”

Junior Steve Spencer is back after posting a 10-6 dual match record in 2001-02. Spencer, who played matches at Nos. 2-6 a year ago, is beginning to show the form that made him a key recruit for Starke as a top scholastic player in Florida.

“Steve is enormously talented,” Starke said. “His tennis game is finally coming into its own. With added consistency and his new-found ability to manage shot selections, Steve will be a real factor at the 3-4 spot.

Pair of freshmen set to start at #5-6

Freshmen Brian O’Connor and Jordan Steinberg are pencilled in to take the Nos. 5 and 6 singles roles.
O’Connor played six years for Iona Prep and earned a national scholastic ranking.

“I am very delighted with Brian’s level of play,” Starke said. “He can stay back, attack the net, play steady, or pick up the level of pace. He is a hungry competitor, and will be a four-year starter for us.”

Steinberg was a two-time all-section and league MVP for Suffern High School.
“Jordan has a power game,” Starke said. “He hits the ball with enormous ferocity, comes at you with full force.

When he combines his abilities with some additional shot selections, Jordan will be a tough opponent.”

Senior, 6-foot-4 transfer will contribute
Senior Ryan Rosenthal and junior transfer Rodrigo Valle highlight a capable quartet of players who can offer doubles and spot singles duties.

Rosenthal won 12 matches last season – including key spring victories against St. Bonaventure and Bucknell — and is a team leader.

“Ryan’s work ethic and diligence sets the standard for the team to follow,” Starke said. “He is a complete player with a great attitude.”

Valle is somewhat of a “wild card” for Starke. Ranked among Bolivia’s top-10 as a teenager, he now lives in Queens, and transferred to BU from Plattsburgh. With a 6-foot-4 frame and big match experience, Valle could be a dark horse in Starke’s lineup once he regains his form.

“Rodrigo is by far our most talented player,” Starke said. “He has a classic South American game — including an enormous serve and an inside-out forehand.”

Sophomores Joe Caiello and Krishna Vallabhaneni round out the 10-member squad.

Caiello went 8-3 in spot singles duty as a freshman, and is battling hard for a regular spot in the lineup.
Vallabhaneni, primarily a doubles player, went 10-3 in duals last season, teaming with Spencer for key wins against Hartford, Stony Brook and Bucknell.

Schedule features four regionally-ranked teams, eight duals at home
Once again, Binghamton will take on many of the best teams in the region, including regionally-ranked Cornell, Army, Colgate and St. Bonaventure.

April home dates with America East rivals Hartford and Stony Brook highlight the spring slate, which features six home dates, including a January 26 indoor match with Colgate.

A match with former SUNY rival Buffalo on Alumni Weekend, and the ITA East Regional are the key fall events.
Bearcats will push for regional ranking, America East title run

Starke knows that Rao’s performance will dictate much of his team’s overall success, but also believes his Bearcats are close to having all the pieces of a high-quality team.

“We are a spirited, hard-working group with a respectable amount of talent,” Starke said. “We could be a player away from wining the America East Conference, but we will certainly demand excellence day-in, day-out, and will play exciting and hard-nosed tennis.”

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