WILMINGTON, North Carolina – UNCW’s Rafael Aita, Kosta Blank and Chris Cooprider head to Urbana-Champaign, Ill., this week to compete in the singles and doubles portion of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Tennis Championships, becoming UNCW’s first entries into the competitive event.
The threesome powered the Seahawks to their third Colonial Athletic Association championship three weeks ago in Williamsburg, Va. UNCW then went 1-1 in the team portion of the NCAA tourney, upsetting South Carolina and losing to ninth-ranked Duke in Durham, N.C.
The bracketed event in singles and doubles will be held Wednesday through Monday, May 22-27, at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex at the University of Illinois Atkins Tennis Center.
The NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Subcommittee selected the 64 singles players and 32 doubles teams to compete. All matches will be the best of three sets. Regular scoring and a 12-point tiebreaker will be used for all matches.
“This is a huge step for our program,” said Mait DuBois, UNCW’s sixth-year head coach. “Everyone had to earn their way there. There were no free rides. Our guys will be playing against the best players in the country.”
Aita, a junior, owns a 16-5 singles record and is ranked 54th in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) rankings. He will face UCLA’s Dennis Novikov, ranked 27th, in the first-round at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Novikov, the top singles player for the No.1-ranked Bruins, carried a 19-11 singles record into UCLA’s NCAA team championship match on Tuesday vs. No. 2-seeded Virginia.
Aita, the 2013 CAA Player-of-the-Year, has been ranked throughout the season and defeated No. 28 Mac Styslinger of Virginia, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (9), and No. 32 Jared Hiltzik of Illinois, 6-3, 6-4, in the Virginia Ranked+1 Invitational in late September. He also knocked off South Carolina’s Tsvetan Mihov, ranked 31st, by a 7-6 (7), 7-6 (2) score on Feb. 20 in Columbia.
“Rafael’s playing pretty well right now,” said DuBois. “He had a pretty good fall and has been rock solid for us in the spring. He’s lost a couple tight tones, but seems to be on the right track. He’s as good as anyone in the country.
“At this time of the year, it’s all about who’s fresh and who’s confident. If Rafael gets hot, he’s as good as anyone.”
The Seahawks have won the doubles point in 20 of 23 matches this spring behind Blank and Cooprider, who have fashioned a 13-5 record. The seniors have won eight of their last 10 matches and defeated Styslinger and Jarmere Jenkins of Virginia, 8-6, in the Virginia Ranked+1 Invitational.
Blank and Cooprider will battle No. 5 Hernus Pieters and Ben Wagland of Georgia in a first-round match on Thursday. Hernus and Pieters stand 15-9 in dual matches at No. 1 for the Bulldogs this spring.
Dubois said, “Kosta and Chris are naturally very good doubles players. They have good chemistry and have been playing together for two years now. They play very pure doubles. They’re just x’s and o’s solid and that makes them a good team.
“They’re constantly giving each other feedback. They’re consistently getting better because they’re always communicating and always looking to help each other.”