Men’s Tennis Captures Fifth Conference Title in Six Seasons and NCAA Tournament Appearance

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 After finishing last season with 17 wins and a perfect 6-0 regular season record in conference play, it was no question this year’s Queens College men’s tennis team had even higher expectations heading into the season after losing in the conference championship. This is especially true considering the Knights have been in every East Coast Conference Championship match since 2003 excluding 2013 and 2007 — an impressive display of dominance. 

Incredibly, last season was the first time since 2016 that the Knights were not crowned ECC champions, as the team had won four championships in a row; 2020 being the only exception, as the season was canceled due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, last year’s loss against the St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC) Spartans was ‘heartbreaking’ for the team. In a joint statement, captains Moritz Borges and Lluis Miralles Miro said, “Last year’s loss was really heartbreaking. We felt deep pain in not being able to bring the ECC title back to Queens College.”

However, the squad led by Head Coach Somadi Druker started off this season strong after having four winners in the inaugural opening season Alan Landes invitational. Shortly after, they had individuals participating in the ITA East Regional Final for the first time since 2016. Two of those individuals competing in the ITA were the doubles pair of Borges and Roni Rikkonen, whose impressive performance in the regionals, finishing second in doubles, earned them a bid to the ITA Cup in Georgia. 

Despite falling just short in both the regional finals and the national ITA Cup, Borges and Rikkonen showed they would be a force to be reckoned with as one of the conference’s best doubles pairs when it came time for dual play. 

And so they were. In Queens’ first victory of the season against Saint Michael’s College, the pair swept the slate in their match by a score of 6-0. The strong start led to the duo gaining recognition in both the ITA Regional and National Rankings. For the first time ever, Queens saw a doubles pair gain a top 10 national ranking, solidifying the duo’s dominance on the court. 

Borges and Rikkonen weren’t the only Knights gaining recognition in the rankings either. Seniors Kareem Rashad, Lucas Demuth, and Mariano Bibiloni along with sophomores Philipp Uhde and ECC Co-Player of the Year Cameron Henricy all gained regional rankings from the ITA, with Henricy earning national singles rankings. 

The talent doesn’t stop there. Even those not recognized by the ITA finished the year with winning records overall. Every single member of the 2022-2023 Queens College men’s tennis team not recognized by the ITA finished the year with winning overall records. 

While that’s a pretty hard feat to accomplish, it’s debatably not as hard as winning five conference championships in the span of six seasons. As previously mentioned, the Knights lost last season’s ECC Championship to the Spartans, but this year, they avenged that loss in a 4-0 victory that marked Queens’ fifth conference title in six seasons. 

“Firstly, I was extremely excited for the team as that [beating STAC in the championship] was one of our goals this season in which we had to work hard for after losing one of the matches against them in the regular season. The pure joy in the team’s eyes and celebrations made me realize why we coach,” Head Coach Somadi Druker said. “Right after the celebrations, I knew then I got my work cut out for next year as I know they will come back stronger which will make defending the title an even greater challenge once again. STAC has always been one of our biggest competitors. Their program has been getting stronger every year making sure the quality of our program and conference stays at a high level. These are the types of rivalries we need among two great programs to keep getting better so we can compete with the best.”

A budding rivalry it may be, as STAC have met the Knights in four straight championships, but for now, the Knights have remained on top, holding a 3-1 record against the Spartans in the championship. However, this win may have been a little more special.

“This year’s win has felt amazing. Especially the way we did it, winning 4-0. As it has been mentioned, we have worked really hard during the whole year, and to see that the work has paid off feels amazing,” the captain’s joint statement read. “It was definitely a special win, especially being able to do it in front of the biggest home crowd we have seen this year out of all the matches we have played.”

After winning the ECC, Queens earned a #1 seed in the NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis tournament for the first time since 2017, and their 21st straight NCAA appearance in the Division II tournament. While they eventually lost in the Round of 32 after a hard-fought loss against Le Moyne College that came down to the last singles match, the team had a special season. 

“What made this team special is definitely how close we are all to each other. For us, we are more than a team, we are a family, and we mean it,” said the captains. “Having a whole team made of international students means that we are in the US alone, with the difficulty that it brings. Therefore, the only thing we have here is each other. This brings the team very close, and makes us fight harder for each other in every match.”

With the season in the books, one might ask what’s next for the Knights as they hang up their racquets for the collegiate season. The team is graduating some key players in the form of the aforementioned Miralles Miro and Borges, with the former being an All-ECC honoree. Joining them are All-ECC recipient Demuth, Bibiloni, and Rashad; with the latter two earning a 20-12 overall record.

“The team was led by two remarkable captains, Borges and Miralles Miro. I have never seen two leaders coming together in such a short time, creating a team atmosphere merely by motivating them to always strive to become the best they can in every workout, practice, and match,” Coach Druker said. “It will be hard to replace them but I’m sure they left a big impact on the guys staying and their leadership will live on. Demuth, Bibiloni and Rashad came to me as freshmen and grew up to become remarkable men with a great future ahead of them. I saw them as my prodigies and they became the heart of this team as well as the pillars I used to build this successful team this season.”

Coach Druker noted that these seniors were truly family, and that their legacy will be felt for years to come. However, she also said that with half of the team graduating, she has a new opportunity to ‘bring together a whole new team, with different expectations, new goals and a great future for our tennis program.’

Going into next year, the Knights will aim to capture their sixth ECC Championship in the span of seven seasons, and with their track record thus far, there’s no reason to doubt them now.

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