BY CHAYIM TAUBER
All of the allegorical springtime clichés apply.
The program is “turning over a new leaf”. The “roots are beginning to take,” the “seeds beginning to blossom.” “New hope.” “A New beginning.”
Any and all of the aforementioned adages could apply to Rockland Community College’s men’s tennis program who find themselves ranked fourth in the nation. The national recognition is all the more impressive when you consider that just four short years ago, coach Joseph Gravagna came to a school that didn’t have a tennis program at all.
In a short amount of time, Gravagna, a coach with experience coaching at both the DII and DI levels, has managed to not only build a program at Rockland Community College that came within a whisker of winning the regionals a season ago (a heartbreaking one point defeat) and has the highest national ranking in school history, he’s done it without the benefit of scholarships and by tapping into the pool of Rockland County talent.
“Start at Rockland and you can go anywhere you want,” is the sales pitch from Coach Gravagna who is quick to point out that Rockland Community College is highly regarded academically and has made no bones about where his priority lies. The 2015 campaign featured Jeremy Rosen (Pearl River) as an ITF Academic All-American.
This season, the team returns Jonathan Compres (Queens), the ITA’s Regional Player to Watch as well as a team that is both intent and focused on avenging last season’s heart-wrenching conclusion.
“These were grown kids, 18, 19 year old kids who were sobbing when we lost. They knew what they had,” Coach Gravagna intimated. “The returning players swore last season wouldn’t happen again. From day 1 the focus has been on getting through regionals and getting to (Nationals).”
Between the crop of local talent, both returning and incumbent, as well as the strength of schedule and the impressive showing that program has displayed in what can still only be described as it’s infancy, the national tennis community has taken notice.
“Rockland Community College isn’t just a local school anymore,” Gravagna said, “we’re national now”.
Other coaches have already described RCC’s team as one that “they wouldn’t want to see in April.” That particular coach cited the Hawks’ focus and intensity in the early part of the season.
“From day 1, they bought into the Philosophy,” Coach Gravagna said. His team, a team he describes as being very academically inclined and one that doesn’t have so much as one “bad apple”, have made it a mission to make it to Texas for Nationals this season.
The Hawks also feel they owe their success to a community and school that have been nothing but supportive of them and their program. The support has served as further motivation to build upon last season’s success as the community hasn’t seen an appearance at Nationals since 1976.
The feeling amongst the tennis community and certainly in the Rockland County locker room is that this may in fact finally be the year.
Like Coach said, “Start at Rockland and you can go anywhere…”