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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Stony Brook women’s tennis hopes to kick off new era with a bang

The Stony Brook women’s tennis team after practice on Monday, Jan. 29. The Seawolves will begin their spring 2024 season this Friday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

The 2024 season will bring a lot of new circumstances for the Stony Brook women’s tennis team, but it is more than ready to meet the challenges ahead.

The Seawolves went through a program overhaul this past offseason. It all started when former head coach Gary Glassman retired after 24 years at the helm of the program. Along with Glassman’s departure, former top players Chandrika Joshi, Loreto Villalba-Rubio, Kristine Theys and Mathilde Sreeves all graduated. Now, rookie head coach Thiago Dualiby will be tasked with guiding a very young team to win the ultimate prize: a Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) championship.

Last season, the team went 11-8 overall and 3-1 in conference play, earning the fifth seed in the 2023 CAA women’s tennis tournament. Stony Brook won its first-ever CAA playoff match by sweeping 12th-seeded Towson and advanced to the CAA quarterfinals, where it was trumped 4-0 by fourth-seeded Elon.

The long offseason was a great opportunity for Dualiby to establish trust between himself and the players on the team, going from a stranger to an ally.

“For me, everyone is a new face,” Dualiby said in an interview with The Statesman. “I think building trust from the beginning and rapport, just spending time together, getting to know each other and to see that we want the best for each other, it becomes easier to coach them after that.”

Dualiby is not the only one going through a transition period. The team brought in five freshmen players who are adjusting to the college lifestyle: Mia Palladino, Darian “Dasha” Perfiliev, Elena Lobo-Corral, Cornelia Bruu-Syversen and Kira Diaz. Dualiby is trying to help ease their nerves and prepare them for their incoming rookie seasons.

“A lot of times I can relate as a coach,” Dualiby said. “This is a first for them, maybe the nerves or the thoughts going through their heads. I try to put myself in their shoes a lot from my playing experience and as a first-year coach.”

With the season approaching rapidly, Stony Brook will have to ready itself for its first challenge of the new year: finding a consistent doubles-game. Figuring out their doubles pairings is a top priority for the team right now, as the players do not have a lot of experience playing alongside one another.

Throughout the whole season, Dualiby plans to remain flexible with the doubles pairings he chooses in order to find long-term solutions.

“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Dualiby said. “We definitely found teams that got along really well, but still, we need more practice. We use the spring as well, the beginning and the middle, to see what we need to improve on in the technical side and the positioning on the court.”

As of now, Dualiby is not committed to any specific tandems. He is also noncommittal about the starting lineup for the season, meaning that all 10 players currently on the roster are in the mix to see the court. Although the Seawolves have spent little time together as a unit, Dualiby expects a strong transition game to the net and an aggressive style of play from the baseline from them. Though he still has a lot to figure out, Dualiby expects his team to boast a strong transition game to the net and an aggressive style of play from the baseline.

One of the centerpieces of the team is sophomore Kristi Boro, an international student from India. She burst onto the scene as a freshman, going 9-5 in singles competition during the spring. She was injured during the offseason, so Dualiby is taking his time with her and easing her back into the groove of things. She was able to knock off some of her rust in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) regionals in the fall, impressing Dualiby with her tempo and high-IQ play.

Boro’s savviness allows her to adjust her playing style to her opponents without losing her hard-nosed individual edge.

“My playing style is on the aggressive side, but still a completely neutral counterplay,” Boro said.

Although Boro is just a sophomore, she is one of only six players on the roster with NCAA Division I experience. So far, she is impressed with her freshmen teammates and believes the team can go a long way into the postseason.

“This is the first time I have had American teammates, and I think all of our freshmen are really good,” Boro said. “They’re stronger than what I had last year. I think we can do pretty good this season and in the conference tournament.”

Debby Mastrodima is a left-handed sophomore from Greece with great touch. She was up and down in singles play last year, going just 8-10 in the spring, but a 5-1 finish to her freshman year has her trending in the right direction. She is also Stony Brook’s best returning doubles player, having gone 11-6 in two-on-two competition. Dualiby believes that if she improves her physicality, she can place her drop shot on the court with better ease, which would help her spread her opponents out.

Carmen Villalba-Rubio — Loreto’s younger sister — is a junior from Spain who missed all of the spring 2023 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee. She is working her way back to full strength, and Dualiby is encouraged with the progress she has shown in practice. However, her role remains unclear at this point.

When she is fully healthy, expect Villalba-Rubio to be one of Stony Brook’s most aggressive players. Her deep shot selection allows her to spread opponents out on the court.

As an international freshman in 2022, she was not used to the rules of collegiate tennis, causing some struggles. Spending her sophomore year on the sideline allowed her to study the other players and better learn the style of play.

“Watching from outside, I get to know each player better, the way they like to play and their strengths,” Villalba-Rubio said.

Last year, the team was inconsistent in singles competition. Villalba-Rubio believed the pressure of playing in a new, unfamiliar conference got the best of them, resulting in them unable to finish out games.

“You put the pressure on you, you don’t know how to finish the point,” Villalba-Rubio said. “Pressure can be really good but really hard at the same time.”

Sara Medved is another international junior from Spain who has one of the best backhands on the team and likes to control the game from her left side. Last year, she did not compete in doubles but posted a 4-1 record in singles matches. She does have doubles experience from her freshman season, as she shared the court with both Carmen Villalba-Rubio and Aradhana Jayakrishna.

Jayakrishna is an international junior from India who has not competed in many matches throughout her first two years. She did not appear in any of the Seawolves’ matches last spring, but Dualiby said she may be able to earn more opportunities if she masters the art of playing closer to the point.

As for the freshman class, Dualiby is enamored with Palladino, a freshman from Brewster, N.Y. He described her as a physical player with an aggressive style of play from her serve and forehand who excels from the baseline and in long rallies.

For Palladino, this season is not only for growing as a player, but also as a teammate.

“I’ve never been part of a team like this before,” Palladino said. “In junior [tennis], it’s more individual-focused. So I’m excited to grow with my teammates.”

Dualiby expects Palladino to be a breakout star based on her performance in the ITA Regionals from October 2023. During the tournament, she was the team’s number one in the starting lineup.

Perfiliev is another freshman from New York who figures to get a lot of action. Dualiby was impressed by her performance in the West Point Invite back in September 2023. During the weekend tournament, she reached the quarterfinal round. He was also impressed with her leadership, as she took on a vocal role on the sideline.

Dualiby said Perfiliev is a great baseline player who possesses a high ability to transition towards the net.

Lobo-Corral is an international freshman from Spain who has spent her entire career playing on a clay court and has done well adapting her game to hardcourt tennis.

Bruu-Syversen is a strong, left-handed freshman that is great at dictating the point with her forehand. Her slice serve is her weapon of choice. Dualiby is still hoping that she can get to the net in a quicker fashion, which would allow her to further control the flow of each point.

Diaz joined the team late last semester after a successful tryout. Dualiby is impressed with her work ethic, but he wants her to improve on her ability to transition towards the net.

Other than inexperience, Stony Brook is going to face major roadblocks with its schedule this year. After spending almost all of the 2023 season at University Courts, the team will only host two matches all year and will not play at home until April 12.

Though it will be difficult to break through their barriers, the Seawolves have no choice but to try. At the end of the day, Dualiby’s primary goal is to get all of his players to put their best foot forward in an attempt to win the CAA title.

“You can’t control if you are going to win or not, but we can give ourselves the best chance possible,” Dualiby said. “When the season ends, whenever it ends, we are going to have the peace of mind that we did everything that we could.”

The opening serve of Stony Brook’s 2023 season is set for 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2 at Army West Point.

Mike Anderson, Cameron Takmil and Kiera Cassar also contributed reporting.

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