Immediate Release: May 2, 2004
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - In a rematch of the 2003 America East Men's Tennis Championship, defending champion and number three seed Binghamton (16-7) successfully defended its title, outlasting arch rival and No. 1 Stony Brook, 4-3, in an epic match that lasted more than five hours Sunday afternoon. The Bearcats now receive an automatic berth into the NCAA Championship, where they will play for the second straight year and sixth time in the last nine years under head coach Michael Starke. The win avenges a 4-3 loss to Stony Brook during the regular-season and completes an unlikely championship run that saw the Bearcats topple higher seeds (who had already beaten BU this spring) on back-to-back days. In Saturday's semifinals, BU bounced No. 2 UMBC 4-1, avenging an earlier 5-2 loss to the Retrievers.
"I'm ecstatic," said Starke, who was named Coach of the Year by his peers for the second straight year. " It looked so bleak for a while. We did not anticipate this. We thought it was somebody else's turn. We were not the best team during the regular season, but we were the best team at the conference tournament."
Originally scheduled to begin on the Connecticut Tennis Center outdoor courts at 10:30 a.m., the match was moved indoors and the Bearcats responded by claiming the crucial doubles point, despite being down double match point at both the number one and number three positions. The top tandem of freshman Dan Hanegby (Herzliya, Israel) and senior Steve Spencer (Plantation, Fla.) forced a tiebreak at 8-8, and won it 7-3. Then the third doubles pair of sophomores Edwin Gerard (Bayside, N.Y.) and Brian O'Connor (New Rochelle, N.Y.) battled back for a 9-7 win to clinch the point for the Bearcats.
"We worked very hard on our doubles, and talked about the necessity of winning the doubles point. Our third doubles team of Brian and Edwin has come so far. They played fearless, found out their opponents' breaking point and snuck out a victory."
In singles, Hanegby posted a 6-4, 7-6 win at the top spot, but Stony Brook responded with wins at Nos. 2, 3, and 4 singles to take a 3-2 lead. As the drama unfolded, Gerard and junior Juan Garcia (Lima, Peru) were engaged in lengthy battles at No. 5 and 6 respectively. Each gutted out three-set victories, with the pair closing out their respective wins within 10 seconds of each other.
Hanegby, who is 20-3 in dual matches this season, was named Most Outstanding Player in the conference - the second straight year a Binghamton player has won the award. In addition, O'Connor, Gerard, Garcia and senior Steve Spencer (Plantation, Fla.) were named to the all-conference team.
Starke, who had to replace three starters including phenom Akshay Rao from his 2003 championship team, talked about the long road to the 2004 title.
"Losing Akshay and Brad Davidoff and Brad Sherwood ... two seniors and the best player to ever set foot on campus ... and to rebound from that is just nothing short of a lot of hard work," he said. When I recruited Dan, Richem (Mourad) and Juan, I knew we had pretty good players, but you never know what character they have within. But we've found out that they are excellent players who are all heart. They have embraced the University and the Bearcat spirit, and understand what great desire it takes to win a championship."
Starke also credited team conditioning as a factor in his team's peak performance.
"Fitness was so important. Stony Brook was more talented and they were on a roll. But we reached down for that championship spirit, and all the running, weights and extra things the guys did paid off huge today. This team is not the same team it was a month ago. We've grown up and are playing some very good tennis."
Binghamton will now await the official announcement of the NCAA tournament field, which will be revealed on Wednesday, May 5 at approximately 4:45 p.m. The announcement will be carried live by ESPNews.
"We are going to take a little different attitude into the NCAAs this year," Starke said. "Last year we were so excited to be there, we were a little 'loosey-goosey.' This year our motto is 'let's see what we can do.' It will be extremely difficult, but this is a special team, and we will work very hard."
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