Courtesy: Joe Browning Coach Mait DuBois speaks to local news reporter Jason Lucas late Thursday
WILMINGTON, North Carolina – The UNCW men’s tennis team hopes to build on last year’s record-setting season and an outstanding fall when the spring campaign kicks off Sunday, Jan. 19, with a home match against state rival Appalachian State.
The Seahawks, ranked 44th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) poll, take on the Mountaineers of the Southern Conference at Noon. It’s the first of 20 matches and 11 home dates and on the docket for Coach Mait DuBois and his club.
“We’re very excited about starting the spring season,” said DuBois, the 2013 Colonial Athletic Association Coach-of-the-Year. “We return four players from last year’s CAA championship team and have a large number of guys competing for every position.
“We have always prided ourselves on our depth and once again we have many players who can play at multiple positions.”
Overall, the veteran UNCW coach welcomes three seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen to his spring roster. Seniors Rafael Aita, Matt Kealy and Pedro Mol will anchor the squad.
The team, which enjoyed its fourth postseason appearance in five seasons last spring, piled up numerous “firsts” one year ago and closed out the campaign ranked 43rd by the ITA. The Seahawks captured their third CAA championship and advanced to the NCAA Regionals in Durham, where the Seahawks stunned No. 17 South Carolina before succumbing to Duke.
The team is anchored by Aita, a sweet-swinging Peruvian who is ranked 42nd nationally in singles. Aita went 16-5 one year ago and was named CAA Player-of-the-Year after climbing as high as No. 17 before finishing 52nd overall. He became the first player in UNCW history to earn an invitation to play in the NCAA Singles Championships in Champaign, Ill.
Doubles has become one of the team’s strengths in recent years and this spring should be no different. Aita and junior Sam Williams are ranked 15th, giving the Seahawks a top-20 doubles tandem for the second straight campaign.
Aita and Williams are the highest ranked doubles team in the state. The tandem punched their ticket to the ITA National Men’s Tennis Indoor Championships in Flushing, N.Y., in the fall by completing an unbeaten run in the ITA Carolina Regional at Cary Tennis Park. The team beat opponents from Elon, Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina and N.C. State en route to the ITA Carolina crown.
Aita and Williams went a perfect 15-0 last year, including 14-0 at the No. 2 position, to earn a final ranking of No. 33.
“We have three seniors and all have played in an NCAA Tournament here,” DuBois noted. “We have an experienced group that has played in and won big matches and that will be important for us moving forward.
“The key to how successful we can be is our leadership. We must have some players step up and display the kind of character and dedication it takes to be successful at the highest level.”
The Seahawks are ranked in the top-50 at the beginning of the spring campaign for the fourth consecutive year. UNCW was ranked 14 times in the 16 weekly polls last year and soared to as high as No. 37 on Feb. 19, 2013.