|Men's Tennis Team Back In NCAA Tourney|
WILMINGTON, North Carolina – The UNCW men’s tennis team, making its fifth NCAA appearance in six years, travels to a new postseason destination early Saturday when the No. 50 Seahawks take on No. 23 Penn State in Charlottesville, Va.
Coach Mait DuBois and his seasoned group battle the Nittany Lions at 9 a.m. at Virginia’s Snyder Tennis Center. UNCW previously competed in the NCAA’s at Athens, Ga. (2009, 2011), Chapel Hill (2012) and Durham (2013).
“Anytime you’re competing for a national championship, it’s pretty exciting,” said seventh-year UNCW Head Coach Mait DuBois. “It’s something we’ve geared our schedule towards. We’re very motivated to take another step forward.”
The Seahawks (15-6) won their second straight Colonial Athletic Association championship and fourth in six seasons two weeks ago and are the No. 3 seed in the pod. Reigning NCAA champion Virginia is the top seed, followed by Penn State at No. 2, UNCW at No. 3 and Army at No. 4.
UNCW is led by senior standout Rafael Aita, the 2013 CAA Player-of-the-Year and Most Outstanding Performer at the 2014 CAA Men’s Tennis Championships. Aita, ranked 50th nationally by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, owns a 14-4 record this spring and has won four straight heading into the regional.
The Seahawks have won nine in a row and stand 6-4 against ranked opponents this season, including a 4-0 romp over then-No. 66 College of Charleston in the CAA finals.
“This team’s made a lot of strides as we’ve gone through the year,” DuBois continued, “The quality of tennis we’re playing now compared to January is two to three levels better. It’s a track we want to keep maintaining. We had a very light April, so I think that puts us ahead of a lot of teams and we’re just trying to use that the best that we can.”
Penn State earned its sixth NCAA berth with a 21-5 mark and is coming off a 4-2 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championships on April 25 in East Lansing, Mich.
The Nittany Lions are anchored by sophomore Leonard Stakhovsky, who is ranked 37th by the ITA with a 17-6 record at No. 1 singles. Like Aita, he has already been invited to compete in the NCAA Singles Championship May 21-26 in Athens, Ga. A First-Team All-Big Ten selection, Stakhovsky has seven wins over ranked foes, including three against top-40 opponents.
Stakhovsky and senior Russell Bader are ranked 26th in doubles with a 17-5 record and will be playing in the NCAA Doubles Championship.
Virginia is the NCAA Tournament’s No. 4 overall seed, marking the eighth consecutive year the Cavaliers have been a top-4 national seed. Virginia won its eighth consecutive ACC title and enters the tournament with a 14-match win streak. It marks the 11th consecutive year that Virginia has received a seed and hosted a regional. Virginia, which has played in the last three NCAA finals, has reached the quarterfinals nine straight seasons and the made semifinal appearances in six of the past seven years.