|Seahawk Tennis Teams Eye NCAA Berths|
WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia – There’s no denying the ultimate goal for the UNCW men’s and women’s tennis teams when the first ball is tossed early Friday in the 2013 Colonial Athletic Association Tennis Championships at William & Mary’s Millie West Tennis Facility: NCAA gold.
Coach Mait DuBois and the men, 16-4 and ranked 54th nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, are the No. 1 seed and will face the winner of the Drexel-Delaware match in the semifinals on Saturday at 2 p.m. Coach Evan Clark and the No. 2-seeded women’s team take on No. 7 Hofstra in a quarterfinal match on Friday at 9 a.m.
“We’re very excited about the tournament,” said DuBois, who is completing his sixth season with the program. “With VCU not playing, it’s got a different feel this year than in other years. We just want to play well and do our thing. We won’t have a shot at an at-large bid. To continue to play as a team, we have to survive and advance every day. So that’s been our focus.”
In the “not very good news” department for opponents, the Seahawks are as hot as a tennis court in mid-summer. They have won eight in a row and 10 of their last 11 matches. The team owns a 96-25 (.793) record in singles and sparkling 36-8 (.818) scorecard in doubles matches.
“We’ve been playing pretty solid all year and just lost a couple tight ones,” added DuBois. “I think we’re jelling as a team. Our serving and returning is definitely improving.
“The pressure’s been there all year. In 90 percent of our matches, we’ve been the higher ranked team. Everybody looks out for us now and it’s a pressure that we’ve gotten used to. For us, we just need to focus on ourselves and play our style of tennis.”
That style of tennis has produced a tennis can full of victories in 2013, including the program’s first perfect home record (12-0) and 11 shutout wins. DuBois plans to use the same lineup that has been a mainstay over the last several weeks.
Seniors Kosta Blank and Chris Cooprider, ranked 28th by the ITA, will play No. 1 doubles. No. 54 Rafael Aita and sophomore Sam Williams are set for the No. 2 slot and sophomore Kaue Pereira and freshman Santtu Leskinen will play No. 3.
The singles lineup features Aita (No. 1), Cooprider (No. 2), Williams (No. 3), Blank (No. 4), Pereira (No. 5) and sophomore Zach Hublitz (No. 6).
DuBois said, “There’s not a lot of major changes. We’re rolling with what’s been working for us. For now, it’s just a matter of keeping everyone healthy and getting them ready to go.”
The Seahawks have reached the CAA finals in three of the past four years and captured the conference title in 2009 and 2011.
Like the men, the Seahawk women’s team is peaking at the right time. Clark’s squad has won six of its last seven matches and dominated a talented Charleston Southern squad last weekend. The UNCW women have never won a CAA crown, but have advanced to the semifinals the last two years.
“I think we’re playing very good tennis right now,” said Clark. “Everyone’s pretty healthy and fresh, and that’s important. We had a very good win against Charleston Southern at the end of the year and we’ll take that momentum into the conference tournament.”
It will be Clark’s first trip to the CAA finale and he gave William & Mary’s the favorite role since the Tribe is ranked 45th in the ITA poll. “The seedings are very accurate and went true to form. W&M is ranked 45th in the country, so they are very deserving.”
UNCW only has one senior in Christine Riley, but most of the players know what’s at stake this weekend. “We’re getting a lot of rest this week and taking care of business academically. We’ve played fewer matches and practiced less this spring to make sure we’re fresh going into the tournament.
“We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re taking the details very seriously. It would be unbelievable to win the championship - that’s been our goal the whole year. It’s a very attainable goal, but we’re going to take it one match at a time. It would mean a lot to this team and they’re very deserving.”
The Seahawks have fashioned a 66-37 (.641) record in singles and 30-18 (.625) ledger In doubles. Sophomore Alyssa Ritchie, the 2012 CAA Rookie-of-the-Year, stands 14-3 and has reeled off 10 consecutive wins.
The Tribe, 15-5 overall, is led by junior Maria Belaya, who is ranked 116th in the nation. W&M has captured 21 CAA women’s tennis titles, with the most recent one coming in 2011.
Six men’s and seven women’s teams will compete for the CAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. Quarterfinal action begins at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 19, followed by the semifinals on Saturday and the two championship matches on Sunday, April 21.
2013 CAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships
Friday, April 19 – Quarterfinals
Saturday, April 20 – Semifinals
Sunday, April 21 – Championships