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Buffalo Bulls Men's Tennis 2015 Season Preview

UB Athletics

For all the close calls UB has had over the years in MAC Championships, no team has come closer nor done it as often as Men's Tennis has under Coach Lee "Nails" Nickell. In 2014, the Bulls came as close as possible without bringing home a crown, losing in the third-set tiebreaker of the seventh and deciding match to cede the championship to Ball State.

This year, the men are coming off a strong fall tournament season, enjoying their best-ever showing at the ITA Regionals and last competing in the MAC Invite, bringing home four titles as the top-performing team in the tournament, and look to finally break through to the top in 2015

Relive Some of Tennis' Other Fall Successes: A good weekend at the Brown Invitational Starting the season with a bang

Key Departees

Jason Simon - Simon just cracks the winningest Bulls list, with 29 career singles victories, but looks even better when going by win percentage, where Simon ranks 7th.

Yevgeniy "Jason" Shkodnik - Now an assistant coach with the Bulls, Shkodnik was a three-year captain for UB and was honored at the end of the 2014 season with the ITA Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship & Leadership Award for the Northeast region. He's a departee from competition for UB, but the Bulls will be better off that Coach Nickell has kept him in the program.

Don't be surprised in three months and change when I'm writing a preview of the conference final.

Key Returners

Damien David, Senior. It's my belief, as included in my 2015 predictions, that David will finish his UB career this spring as the winningest Bull in history. At the end of last spring, David was 30 wins off the program singles record and 43 off the combined victories record. In the fall season he added 16 singles and 11 further doubles victories, moving him up to third (singles), seventh (doubles), and fourth (combined) in the UB books lists.

Oh yea, and he's the reigning MAC Player of the Year.

Pablo Alvarez, Junior. Once named the MAC Newcomer of the Year, Alvarez has been a solid contributor for the Bulls in his first two years, but had something of a breakout fall, second only to David in singles wins with 15 and leading the Bulls with 13 doubles wins. His most notable accomplishment came in the ITA Regionals, where Alvarez became the first Bull in history to advance to the Round of 16.

Sebastien Ionescu, Senior. For the second straight year, UB will graduate only two seniors. While David and Alvarez form a solid one-two combo, Ionescu is a returning Second Team All-MAC selection who will be a key cog for the Bulls, as well. After going 7-2 in singles play and 7-5 in doubles in the fall, Ionescu is poised to move into the UB top 20 in winning percentage despite playing his freshman year at the University of Arizona. 

2015 Newcomers

Noah Hajdu-Andersson, Freshman. Of nine student-athletes on UB's roster, eight differen countries are represented. Hajdu-Andersson hails from Oslo, Norway, where he attended Wang toppidrett Oslo. When UB announced Hajdu-Andersson's commitment, Coach Nails noted his international experience. In the fall, Hajdu-Andersson was 9-3 in singles and 6-6 in doubles play.

Also, he's 6'5", the tallest Bull in at least six years (I can't find data any further into the past).  Look for him to be a key member of the Bulls' depth in dual matches.

Tony Miller, Redshirt Sophomore. Would that all members of the UB Athletics Hall of Fame raised student-athletes to compete at UB! Miller's father is in the UB Hall, but his mother also played tennis for the Bulls. Miller is the lone American on the squad and comes to UB from Williamsville North by way of Erie Community College.

TennisRecruiting.net had Miller as a 3-star prospect. I'm not sure if the distribution is similar to football and basketball, but that sounds good. In the fall season he was 5-1 in singles and 7-2 in doubles matches.

Balaji Lakshmanan, Freshman. I can't find a lot of pre-Buffalo information on Lakhsmanan, who hails from India, and he didn't see much competitive action in the fall. With apologies to Balaji, we'll have to check back in as upperclassman move on and he moves up the pecking order.

2015 Schedule

17 January @ Dartmouth
18 January Bryant (@ Dartmouth)
24 January @ Yale / vs Colgate
25 January @ Yale / vs Monmouth
30 January @ Army
31 January Central Florida (@ Army)
1 February Boston College (@ Army)
7 February @ Cleveland State
13 February Niagara
21 February Youngstown State
28 February @ Monmouth
1 March @ Princeton
7 March @ Brown
21 March @ Cornell
28 March @ Harvard
1 April @ Binghamton*
4 April @ Western Michigan*
12 April @ Toledo*
18 April Ball State*
19 April Northern Illinois

Tennis is a highly regional sport, which means UB will see many of the same opponents from the fall tournament season, during which they topped Binghamton, Colgate, Niagara, Boston College, Dartmouth, and Bryant in scored and unscored team competitions. The month of March is an all-Ivy, all-road slate for the Bulls, who faced off quite a bit in invitational bracket play against opponents from the Ancient 8.

If you're looking to catch the Bulls as home, you have few opportunities. The guys don't compete at home until February, when they host Niagara and Youngstown State on consecutive weekends, and then won't be home again til the final two matches of conference play, which takes place entirely in a three-week stretch of April.

Final Thoughts

Simon and Shkodnik are listed above as departees, but unless I'm reading old recaps wrong (I'll admit the possibility), neither saw action in either of UB's two postseason matches.

In terms of lineup, David, Alvarez, and Ionescu are going to be bellwethers for the team, taking up the top three singles spots and comprising a doubles pairing too. Akhil Mehta and Sergio Arevalillo, two returning juniors, will join with Hajdu-Andersson for further depth and I've got to say, this is a loaded, experienced team.

In MAC play, I'll look not to last year's final appearance, because the Bulls pulled an upset over top-ranked Northern Illinois to get there, but to the strong showing to close out the fall season. In an invitational featuring representatives of the six MAC schools, UB won three of five singles and one of three doubles flights, leaving just four titles for the other five schools to divvy up. (Binghamton is claiming a championship in Flight F, but that was an incomplete round-robin format, so I call shenanigans.)

Buffalo had a run of strong seasons around the turn of the millennium, and while Coach Nails hasn't quite surpassed that period in terms of total wins, he has in postseason success, and the Bulls are ready to break through.

Anything can happen in tournament play, as the Bulls showed NIU last year, so it's tough to lay down a firm prediction, but I'd put Men's Tennis as one of the two most likely UB teams - along with Women's Swimming and Diving - to bring home another MAC Championship this year. Don't be surprised in three months and change when I'm writing a preview of the conference final.

***

On Binghamton:

Binghamton was the only other school in the MAC Invite with even four finalists, while WMU and Toledo each had three to Buffalo's five. The SUNY rival is now a MAC affiliate member for tennis, which is kind of annoying, but it means the MAC can retain an automatic NCAA berth for its champion. Binghamton had won six straight America East championships and their departure destabilized America East tennis to the point that the conference will no longer sponsor the sport.

Buffalo and Binghamton competed to open the fall season, and though it was an unscored event, UB won five of seven singles matches and two of three doubles contests. In a head-to-head match, which scores each of six singles matches and offers a seventh point for best two-of-three double, Buffalo would have won 5-2.

Go Bulls.