The 2014 USTA/ITA National Small College Championships begin tomorrow and will continue through Sunday, October 12. This year's championships are hosted by the Palmetto Tennis Center in Sumter, S.C.
One of collegiate athletics' most unique events, the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships date back to 1986, and are the only national championship event for singles and doubles for NCAA Division II and NAIA levels. It is also the only tournament that combines all levels of Junior/Community College (NJCAA Divisions I and III, along with the California division). Over 8,000 student-athletes from NCAA Division I, II, III, NAIA, Junior and Community Colleges compete in the USTA/ITA Regional Championships held at 85 different college campuses across the country.
Each small college division (NCAA Divisions II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community College) exports eight singles players and eight doubles pairs into this national event. Participants earned their spots by winning their respective USTA/ITA Regional Championships, held over the past four weeks throughout the country, or made the draw by receiving an at-large bid.
In Sumter, the singles and doubles champions of each division compete in the overall "Super Bowl" draws. The four Super Bowl champions, one for both men and women in singles and in doubles, receive wild cards into the 2014 USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, held November 6-9 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, New York.
The most unique element of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships program is the fact that all levels of collegiate varsity tennis (NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community College) are competing in one comprehensive event, and every ITA varsity student-athlete across each division has the opportunity to play and win at the prestigious USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
On the court this week in Sumter, the Division II women's draws are led by the reigning 2013 Super Bowl champions: Valentine Confalonieri, from Lynn University, last year's singles Super Bowl winner, and Linda Fritschken and Emma Onila of Barry University, winners of last year's doubles bracket. Confalonieri and Fritschken/Onila both earned the automatic bids into the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships last year. On the men's Division II side, one Super Bowl participant is back: Benas Majauskas of Concordia College (NY). Majauskas advanced into the doubles Super Bowl draw last year and is seeded fourth this year with a new partner, Lorenzo Montegiorgi.
After advancing to the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships last year, Lynn's Confalonieri won her first round match against Vanderbilt University's Georgina Sellyn. Confalonieri was knocked out in the next round by the tournament's eventual runner-up, Robin Anderson of UCLA. Barry's Fritshcken and Onila fell in the first round to a pairing from USC that reached the doubles final.
The Division III men's draws are led by players from Emory University and Johns Hopkins University. Emory's Alex Ruderman takes the top seed in singles, and Johns Hopkins' Michael Buxbaum is seeded second. In the doubles draw, the players swapped seeds; Buxbaum and partner Emerson Walsh are seeded first, while Ruderman and partner Ian Wagner are seeded second. The women's draws are led by Caroline Ward of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, as she holds the top seed in singles, and in doubles, with partner Kate Kuosman.
Winners of the men's NAIA brackets went on to become outright Super Bowl champions last year and advanced to the 2013 National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, and both winners are back in 2014. Embry-Riddle University's Deni Zmak won the men's singles Super Bowl, and he doubled up to win the doubles Super Bowl with partner Simon Felix . Zmak is the top NAIA seed in both singles and doubles, but with new partner Jaime Sanchez-Canamares Rios in doubles. On the women's side, one Super Bowl participant is back in doubles but with a new partner, as Hui-I Huang of Embry-Riddle teams up with Paula Ortiz-Couder as the fourth seeded tandem. In NAIA women's singles, Nour Abbes of Xavier (LA) is seeded first.
Embry-Riddle's Zmak and Felix upset the third-seeded pair from UCLA, Mackenzie McDonald and Marcos Giron, in the first round of last year's National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships. They lost to the eventual champions from Columbia University in the next round. In singles, Zmak lost in the first round in three sets to Andrew Harris of Oklahoma, 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 7-5.
Four different schools are represented by number one seeds across the Junior College field. Hironori Koyanagi of Ventura Community College claims the top spot for men's singles, while Celestin Nkoueleu and Sam Slade of Georgia Perimeter College form the top doubles team. For the women, Natella Nabieva from State College of Florida is the number one singles seed, and Paula Lopez and Paula Coyos from Seward County Community College are seeded first in doubles.
Match play begins on Wednesday with four play-in matches in the Division III draws. Additional festivities on Wednesday include team check-ins, the welcoming banquet and coaches' meeting. Thursday's schedule starts at 8:30am with women's singles action across all four divisions.
For complete coverage of the 2014 USTA/ITA National Small College Championships, including access to updated draws, please visit the official tournament page on ITAtennis.com. Follow the ITA on Twitter,@ITAtennis, for updates and news from Sumter (search for the hashtag #SmallCollegeNationals) and like us on Facebook to see photos.
About the Palmetto Tennis Center: The Palmetto Tennis Center is located inside Palmetto Park in Sumter, South Carolina, and is home to 24 state-of-the-art tennis courts, with lighting available for night play. Three on-site tennis pros and a progressive training program teach players from beginner to advanced levels spanning from players aged five and older. Other amenities include ball machines, stringing service, and a pro shop. Admission for regular play is free of charge. Visit the Palmetto Tennis Center website and follow tournament updates on their Facebook page.
About the ITA: As the governing body of collegiate tennis, the ITA promotes both the athletic and academic achievements of the collegiate tennis community. The ITA, which is comprised of nearly 1,700 men's and women's varsity coaches representing over 1,200 institutions, administers numerous regional and national championships and the ITA College Tennis Rankings for over 20,000 college varsity student-athletes at NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior College levels. The ITA also has a comprehensive awards program for players and coaches to honor excellence in academics, leadership and sportsmanship. The official ITA web site is www.itatennis.com.