2019 Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis
Erin Maher | April 25, 2019
Nineteen collegiate wheelchair tennis players from across the country will descend upon the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., on Friday for the 2019 USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Championships.
2019 is set to be the biggest year yet for the tournament, with the largest pool of competitors to date. The tournament, which runs April 26-28, will feature players affiliated with or from eight schools, representing six USTA sections. They include: the University of Alabama, Michigan State University, San Diego State University, University of Central Florida, University of Florida and Stonybrook University, as well as the University of Houston and Clemson University, which are new to the event this year.
“We are very excited to host the College Wheelchair National Championships for the second year,” said Joanne Wallen, the USTA's director of Adult Individual Play & Wheelchair. ADVERTISEMENT “Over the past year, we have been able to assess the formats, and this year I am happy to announce that the schools will be competing for the national championship with a true team format.”
This year, the tournament has seen major changes to its format, as a concerted effort has been made to facilitate a team event that is similar to the NCAA Championships. Both a team and individual event will be played concurrently.
For the team event, the Wheelchair Collegiate National Championships has adopted a format similar to World TeamTennis, with each school choosing one doubles team and two singles players to compete. Schools will then pit its doubles teams and first and second singles players against each other, for a grand total of three matches played. Whichever team wins the best-out-of-three matches will advance. The singles competition will be divided into three tiers based on skill level.
The competition will also welcome new competitors this year, as affiliated competitors—open wheelchair tennis players who have both personal ties and live near a university-based wheelchair tennis program—have been invited to play.
At this year's tournament, the four-time national champion University of Alabama is back to defend its title. The Crimson Tide has dominated the tournament for the past two years, and according to head coach Evan Enquist, the team has no plans to surrender the title just yet.
“We’re excited about it [the Wheelchair Collegiate National Championships],” Enquist said. “I think our team is stronger this year than last year, in terms of everyone. We did lose Maude [Jacques], but we gained two strong freshman who each have a lot of experience on the team right now.”
Leading the charge for Alabama is Team USA wheelchair member Shelby Baron. Baron was the second-highest point scorer at the national championships, along with doubles partner Jacques. This season, Baron has yet to slow down.
“Shelby had some pretty big wins this year, including taking down the No. 1 doubles team in the world in March at the Georgia Open," Enquist said.
While Jacques has graduated, Baron will be teaming up with a new member of the Alabama squad, Thomas Venos of Canada.
“Thomas is huge,” Enquist said. “He’s the No. 1 men’s player in Canada, and he’s really starting to show some improvement, just as a freshman. He’s been performing at all the events we’ve gone to, and he’s taken sets off the Top-50 players. He’s on the cusp of getting some really big wins.”
Another University of Alabama standout is Lauren Haneke-Hopps, a bronze medalist who represented the U.S. on the 2017 World Cup team. Haneke-Hopps was a member of the first American women’s team to medal at a World Team Cup event since 2003.
Returning to the tournament is Team USA's Chris Herman, who notched the highest individual score at last year’s tournament. A junior at the University of Florida, Herman is ranked No. 65 in the world and No. 3 in the U.S.
Nathan Melnyk of Stonybrook University and Jose Estrada of San Diego State University will also be returning in the men’s division this year.
The 2019 tournament will also see the addition of three new awards—Academic All-American, Sportmanship and MVP—which will be voted on in-tournament by representatives from each team.
Follow all the action on Facebook at USTA Wheelchair Tennis.
Pictured Above: Alex Saporito of the University of Alabama competing at the 2018 Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships (Photo Credit: Erin Maher)