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If you’re looking for a bright spot in athletics in Queens, you don’t have to look much further than the St. John’s University men’s tennis team.
This last year has seen them achieve excellence on and off the court, an accomplishment that any college program would brag about. Whether it was their program best 17 wins or their 2010-11 Big East Academic Excellence Award, the team has no shortage of accolades.
The man who is in charge of the program is the 2011 Big East Conference coach of the year, Eric Rebhuhn. He notched his 100th career win Feb. 18 and led the Red Storm to their first national ranking. But these accomplishments have not come easy.
“There are a lot of obstacles in being able to be a successful tennis program in the Northeast,” said Rebhuhn. “It goes to the commitment to the program by the university and the kids.”
Rebhuhn also believes in this commitment when he is recruiting student-athletes. Not only is he looking for the best tennis players, but students who are most likely to succeed in the classroom. Maybe that is the reason his team received the Intercollegiate Tennis Association All-Academic Award for 2010-11.
“I push the goal of having and maintaining a 3.5 GPA overall every semester,” said Rebhuhn. “At the end of the day, they’re students first and tennis players second.”
Last year’s campaign saw two of his players selected to the all-conference team. The Storm also beat a program-best three ranked opponents. The team only improved this year with the addition of University of Texas transfer Vasko Mladenov, a player Rebhuhn sees as one of the best in the country.
Mladenov has already proven his coach right by winning the top singles championship earlier this fall at the Farnsworth/Princeton Invitational and sharing in an A doubles championship at this past week’s Columbia Classic, hosted by Columbia University.
Mladenov has really enjoyed his time in the city thus far, which has been a marked improvement from his previous home in Texas. He compared New York to his hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria. He believes that he can grow here as a person and a tennis player.
“There’s so many opportunities in every area: entertainment, sports, medicine, business, economics, art, everything you can think of … very important for me was the city,” said Mladenov.
The sociology major has been more than impressed with the tennis team as well, especially with the addition of assistant Coach Omar Altman, who was an All-American at Pepperdine University. Rebhuhn believes he will help the team with his top-level experience.
Rebhuhn’s expectations seemed to be met last weekend at the Columbia Classic, in which the Storm claimed the B singles title and made it to the A singles title match, though they fell short of the A singles championship.
Mladenov’s shared A doubles championship was also a testament to Rebhuhn’s hopes for him.
Mladenov is highly optimistic of the team’s potential under the leadership of Rebhuhn and Altman.
“I think the team is more motivated because last year was a successful season for the guys,” said Mladenov. “This year we’re a stronger team with more of professional look.”
Rebhuhn has not lowered his standards for the season either. He expects nothing but the best from his players.
“My goal is to get ranked in the top 75 … my second goal is to do well in the Big East Tournament and potentially try and win.”
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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