Nick Zieziula, head coach of the Binghamton men’s tennis team, isn’t satisfied by improvement alone. After winning just eight matches in 2015, last season the Bearcats improved their record to 13-9, finishing in a three-way tie for second in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
They handed eventual conference-champion Western Michigan its only loss of the conference season. For most coaches, that would be enough, but Zieziula wants more.
“At the end of the day we didn’t win the regular season or the conference tournament last year,” he said. “We had some success, but it’s not like we were where we wanted to be.”
Much of BU’s success last season can be attributed to its now-graduated seniors Eliott Hureau and Sid Hazarika. Hazarika and Hureau played first and second singles, respectively. A major challenge this year will be finding players to fill their spots.
“Any time you are losing guys who are playing one and two you are going to have some concerns,” Zieziula said. “[During] both of their careers [they’ve had] some outstanding wins.”
The dynamic of this team will be much different than that of last year’s squad. The Bearcats are composed almost entirely of underclassmen; the roster includes five freshmen and just two seniors.
“What really matters is how focused people are day in and day out,” he said. “So if you have a group of freshmen and sophomores that are focused on staying organized and [that are] dedicated to practice, then you’re going to have a lot of success.”
This freshman class is unlike freshman classes in other sports, mainly because all five players are from foreign countries. Adapting to a new culture while also trying to compete on the Division I level is a daunting task. But for this group, most of the players are closely tied to the United States.
“It’s an interesting group because [Amerigo Valenti and Sebastian Quiros] are U.S. citizens, so [the] two of them have spent a ton of time in the U.S. already,” Zieziula said. “Agustin [Cattoretti] from Bolivia actually did a study abroad so he’s used to living in the U.S. … Kushaan [Nath] has a lot of family in the U.S. and he’s been here before.”
The easier transition to U.S. culture helps Zieziula keep the team focused on tennis.
“Overall, that stuff makes my life easier because we can focus more on tennis and training straight away,” he said.
This young team returns key players who have experience performing at the Division I level. Sophomores Valentin Bouchet and Ludovico Cestarollo each finished their freshman seasons with winning records. Cestarollo went 19-14, while Bouchet was 21-10. Their experience winning at this level should be an asset in developing the young squad.
As far as training is concerned, Zieziula would like his team to learn from the mistakes that plagued last year’s squad. BU was a streaky team last season; after winning their first four games of the season, the Bearcats dropped the next four. This inconsistency is something that Zieziula aims to eliminate this year.
“The name of the game this year is to try and even [our play] out a bit and avoid those peaks and valleys and work to be more consistent all the way through,” he said.
Although this team is young, the expectations have not changed. Binghamton has won 10 America East postseason titles since the start of the 2001-2002 season, including seven straight before joining the MAC.
“The expectations of this program has always been and always will be to deliver championships,” Zieziula said.
BU’s first tournament of the season this weekend will give Zieziula an opportunity to evaluate his team’s progress.
“We’re focused a lot on our doubles,” Zieziula said. “We’re looking for some specific plays that we’ve been working on in practice. All five freshmen, hopefully, will get playing time this weekend.”
BU is set to begin competition at the Army Shootout on Friday at the Lichtenberg Tennis Center in West Point, New York.