UMBC Men's Tennis Outlook
BACK TO BACK TITLES WITHIN REACH
In many ways, UMBC's championship season began with a difficult loss in the Northeast Conference title match against Fairleigh Dickinson in 1999. Inspired by that bitter loss, the Retrievers approached the 2000 event with a must-win attitude. That mindset allowed UMBC to dominate their opponents and conquer their first ever Northeast Conference crown and NCAA Tournament birth.
"We used the loss to Fairleigh Dickinson as motivation all season long, and particularly in the NEC Tournament," Puryear claimed. "The defeat helped us to understand what we needed to do to get over the hump."
UMBC bulldozed their way through the conference tournament, failing to lose a single match. The top-seeded Retrievers dusted off Sacred Heart in the opening round and then avenged their 1999 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson with an easy sweep against the Knights in the semi-finals. Robert Morris proved to be no match for Retrievers in the finals, as UMBC won three consecutive singles matches in straight sets after taking the doubles match. The Retrievers' memorable season came to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against national power Illinois, but the experience and exposure was invaluable.
Despite losing one of the greatest players in the program's history, Oscar Lopez, coach Puryear is confident that his team can repeat their feat of a year ago. Puryear has attracted three exciting newcomers to the program who he feels will make an immediate impact, and they will join three returning First Team All-Conference players.
Senior Vinny Granito (All-Conference, #3 singles and #3 doubles) is a two-time NEC All-Conference singles selection and finished last season with a 17-11 record. Junior Eric Nudo (All-Conference, #5 singles) is also a two-time NEC All-Conference pick. Last season, Nudo went 22-9, and also picked up an All-Conference award at #2 doubles playing with senior Nick Misra, who enjoyed a tremendous summer and looks to be poised for a big season. UMBC's third All-Conference singles player was Dimitri Bondar, who led UMBC with 24 wins against just eight losses. He also tallied a perfect 4-0 record against conference opponents.
Puryear also expects veterans Chris Cetateanu (All-Conference at #3 doubles) and Brandon Ferguson to challenge for spots in the singles rotation. Navy Tran and Danielle Smith also worked hard over the summer and will challenge for court-time.
Three exciting newcomers could force their way into the starting rotation. Mark Carducci (Rocky Hill, CT), Mikhail Kouznetsov (Moscow, Russia), and Luis Baraldi (Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.) all have terrific backgrounds . Carduchi is the first American ranked player to enter the UMBC program and has been ranked as high as #25. His coach describes him as a very intelligent player who brings a tremendous amount of tournament experience. Cutchnerkoff was ranked in the top-16 in his native country of Russia and has enjoyed great success in a number of USTA sanctioned events. He has a big forehand and moves very well. Baraldi, who hits the ball hard off both sides, was ranked as high as #20 in New Mexico and his high school team won the National Championship last year.
"I'm excited about our team," said Puryear. "If we stay focused, I believe we can successfully defend our championship."