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Somerset, NJ -- It was a two-horse race for the top spot in the Northeast Conference (NEC) men’s tennis coaches poll. After all the votes were tallied, it was Quinnipiac that earned the right to call itself the 2012 preseason favorite, edging Fairleigh Dickinson by the narrowest of margins.
Both the Bobcats and Knights received four first place votes, with Monmouth earning the remaining first place nod to finish third in the poll. Quinnipiac was the 2011 NEC runner up, while FDU and Monmouth were both tournament semifinalists. Fourth place in the poll went to defending NEC champion Sacred Heart. The league’s western Pennsylvania contingent fell in right behind with Saint Francis (PA) voted fifth and Robert Morris sixth. Mount St. Mary’s was tabbed seventh, followed by St. Francis (NY) eighth and Wagner ninth. Bryant is ineligible to compete in the NEC Tournament until 2013 and is not included in the poll.
As the regular season unfolds, teams will be jockeying for seeding position at the 2012 NEC Championships this spring. The postseason event will take place in its longtime home, the Mercer County Tennis Center in West Windsor, NJ from April 20-22. The tourney winner will earn the right to represent the NEC in the NCAA Tournament come May.
2012 Northeast Conference
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Quinnipiac (4)
2. Fairleigh Dickinson (4)
4. Sacred Heart
5. Saint Francis (PA)
6. Robert Morris
7. Mount St. Mary's
8. St. Francis (NY)
First place votes in parentheses
Possessing a rich history and deep reservoir of talent, three-time NEC Coach of the Year Mike Quitko has Quinnipiac primed to challenge for a fifth league championship. The Bobcats have advanced to the NEC title match in six of the last eight seasons and last took home the trophy back in 2010. Five starters are back, including a pair of second team All-Conference honorees in junior Andrew Weeden (Martinsville, NJ/Bridgewater-Raritan) and sophomore Corey Morgenstern (Old Bethpage, NY/Plainview-Old Bethpage). Positioned at the top of the Quinnipiac lineup, Weeden led the Bobcats and ranked second in the NEC with 19 wins in 2011-12. Morgenstern, one of three freshman tabbed to an All-Conference team a year ago, manned the #6 flight and finished with 13 victories, including a 5-2 mark in the NEC. Veteran James Kwei (Dedham, MA/Dedham) was a first team singles performer back in 2010 and has three first team All-NEC doubles accolades on his resume. Last season, the senior teamed with then-sophomore Alex Lazerowich (Stratham, NH/Exeter/New Hampton School) to post a perfect 7-0 record against league competition at the #2 flight.
Poised to make a run at its first league crown since 2008, Fairleigh Dickinson is not only loaded with talented upperclassmen, but five-time NEC Coach of the Year Ira Miller added a key newcomer to the mix that he hopes will push the Knights over the top. Junior Yuri Gricheno (Sao Paolo, Brazil/Colegio Amorim) collected first team All-NEC honors at the #4 flight last season and won 13 matches on the year. He was named the September NEC Player of the Month this past fall after he captured the Flight F title at the USTA Invitational. Junior Mark Hemy (Suffolk, England/Ipswich School) was a perfect 4-0 versus NEC rivals and amassed a team-high 15 wins in 2011-12 splitting time between the #4 and #5 spots. Junior Peter Skvarka (Banska Bystrica, Slovakia/Gymnazium J.G. Tajovskeho) finished the year with 11 singles wins and teamed with Andrew Denny to earn second team All-NEC doubles accolades in #3 flight play. Keep an eye this spring on freshman Arvis Berzins (Adazi, Latvia/Riga Centre Language School), the latest in a long line of international players to find success at FDU. He assumed #1 flight duties in the fall and finished his first season of collegiate competition with five wins.
Monmouth gave eventual champion Sacred Heart all it could handle in last year’s NEC semifinals and has now established itself as a perennial contender under head coach Mickey Cook. The Hawks have reached the semis in each of the last five years and twice played for the NEC title during that span. While the Hawks lost a couple of key pieces - including NEC first team all-star Harveer Bhalla - they do bring back a good one in senior David Sherwood (Little Egg Harbor, NJ/Pinelands). Sherwood posted a 7-1 mark at #4 singles last season and was 5-1 against conference competitors en-route second team All-NEC recognition. Senior Laurence Heads (Stockton-on-Tees, England/Repton School) has manned the #1 spot in the rotation for the Hawks since his sophomore season and gives Cook an experienced hand in a lineup that features a number of promising newcomers, including the twin-brother combination of Francis and Carl Jedlinski (Manalapan, NJ/Freehold Twp.). Francis Jedlinski reeled off 11 wins in the fall and was named the NEC Rookie of the Month in October.
After winning its second NEC title in the last three years, Sacred Heart has undergone a makeover after three All-Conference performers and four starters in total were lost to graduation. Most notably, the Pioneers must attempt to fill the void left by the departure of all-time great Kirill Kasyanov, a two-time NEC Player of the Year who won 100 career singles matches. Head coach Paul Gagliardi does return senior Chadd Sullo (Orange, CT/Amity), who was tabbed second team All-NEC at both #5 singles and #1 doubles along with Kasyanov. Sullo finished with an 18-7 singles record in 2011-12 and was 8-1 within the league. Senior Jacob Miller (West Chesterfield, NH) is also back after compiling a 10-7 singles mark primarily in #6 flight play last season.
Saint Francis (PA) could be the NEC’s most improved team based on its play this past fall. Four freshman made an immediate impact for second year head coach Paul Tobin, none more so than Sergio Carvajal (Nueva Esparta, Venezuela/U.E. Fray Elias Maria Sendra), who was picked as the September NEC Rookie of the Month. He reached the Flight B final at the Bucknell Invitational and had a strong showing at the USTA Invitational. Fellow freshmen Chris Jimenez (Bayside, NY/St. Francis Prep), Juan Andres Pardo Montova (Bogota, Colombia/Colegio Andino) and Lawson Barter (Chicago, IL/Loyola) have all been penciled into the starting lineup. Senior Nathaniel Fleming (Gas City, IN/Missossonewa) will provide leadership on the young squad as he competes at the #1 flight.
Head coach Jeff Layman hopes to capitalize on his team’s late season momentum last spring as he brings back nearly his entire Robert Morris roster. The Colonials won five straight matches to close out the 2010-11 regular season before falling in a competitive match to Monmouth in the NEC quarterfinals. There are eight upperclassmen on the roster, including senior Jose Limon (Colonia San Jose, Mexico) and junior Tarun Kishan (Mississauga, Ontario/Saint Francis Xavier Secondary), who ranked one-two in singles victories last season. Both players posted perfect 5-0 records in singles play this past fall.
Mount St. Mary’s sports a nice blend of youth and experience under veteran head coach Phil Hammond. The Mountaineers can count on consistent play from juniors Mike Salomon (Haymarket, VA/Seton School) and Matthew Blake (Garnet Valley, PA/Salesianum (DE)), both of whom finished with winning records in 2010-11. Salomon, in particular, comes off a fantastic fall season in which he posted a 12-2 mark. Freshman Patrick McGinley (Coatesville, PA/Coatesville) went unbeaten in dual meet competition in the fall, winning all five of his #6 singles matches.
With seven of its eight returnees upperclassmen, St. Francis (NY) hopes to make a push up the NEC ladder this season. Head coach Chad Davis will once again pencil senior Danlahdi Robinson (Queens, NY/Brooklyn Tech) and junior Martin Grunin (Brooklyn, NY/St. Edmund Prep) into his lineup, a pair of veteran players who ranked one-two on the team in victories last season. Robinson compiled a 5-1 mark against NEC rivals playing at the #3 flight, while Grunin went 4-1 in #6 flight play.
The rebuilding process continues for second year head coach Joel Javan and his Wagner team. Sophomore Danil Ovechkin (Staten Island, NY/Pendelton School (FL)) comes off a promising freshman campaign that saw him post a 4-1 record at the #1 singles position. He continued to excel this past fall, winning eight-of-11 matches. Newcomer Christian Rautenstrauch (Charlotte, NC/Providence Day) has also earned playing time and could be a significant contributor in the spring.
Bryant is a year away from competing for an NEC crown, and that day can’t come soon enough for head coach Ron Gendron. The Bulldogs went a perfect 6-0 against NEC competition in 2010-11, including wins over Monmouth, Quinnipiac and league champion Sacred Heart. 2011 NEC Rookie of the Year and second team All-Conference pick Dana Parziale (Pinehurst, NC/Pinecrest) is back in the fold after he posted a team-best 18 wins at #3 singles. Gendron added six newcomers to the roster, a number of whom have cracked the starting lineup, including #1 flight player Zachary Morris (Garden City, NJ/Garden City).
About The Northeast Conference
Now in its 31st year, the Northeast Conference is an NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association consisting of 12 institutions of higher learning located throughout six states. Media coverage of the NEC extends to four of the largest markets in the United States - New York (#1), Pittsburgh (#23), Baltimore (#27), and Hartford/New Haven (#30). Founded in 1981 as the basketball-only ECAC Metro Conference, the NEC has grown to sponsor 23 championship sports for men and women and now enjoys automatic or play-in access to 14 different NCAA Championships. NEC member institutions include Central Connecticut State, Fairleigh Dickinson, LIU Brooklyn, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary’s, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (NY), Saint Francis (PA) and Wagner. Bryant will become the NEC’s 12th member upon completion of the NCAA Division I reclassification process in 2012. For more information on the NEC, visit www.northeastconference.org.