2023 NCAA Championships: D3 Case Western men win school's first national title
The Case Western Reserve University men's tennis team made program and school history on Tuesday night at the USTA National Campus by winning the 2023 Division III NCAA title.
After falling short in the national title match in each of the past two years, the Spartans soared to the trophy with a 5-2 win against second-ranked Tufts University in Orlando. The Spartans stormed out of the gates with a doubles sweep to lead 3-0 before senior James Hopper clinched victory with a 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 1 singles.
“It's a moment that you dream of," said the senior, a multiple-time All-American.
"Especially the previous two years, losing in the final, coming so close, you have all those emotions coming to you and especially personally for me as well."
The clinching win was even sweeter for Hopper after he was on the opposite side of the decisive victory in last year's final.
“Last year, getting clinched on in the final, that stung a lot," he said. "And then we have a whole year. It's not like you can get back to it the next month and get right after it. There's a lot of time where that soaks in and I think we were super motivated this year.
"We were all driven with one clear goal and it’s a super special group of guys that I couldn't be more proud of and wouldn't want to enjoy it with anybody else.”
Case Western's fourth point came from Ajay Mahenthiran at No. 5 singles. That result proved crucial in preventing a Tufts comeback, with the Jumbos winning on the No. 4 and No. 6 singles courts and closing in on victory at No. 3, with the second singles match locked in a third set.
For head coach Todd Wojtkowski, the title carries significance not just on the CWRU campus, but in the surrounding Cleveland community at large.
“This thing goes back pretty far, to when LeBron [James] left the first time, and we all read that article that said… Well, now that LeBron's gone, the Browns are in the toilet and the Guardians weren't playing too well. And then the final punch line on that article was: ‘And we all know Case Western is not winning any championships soon.’ And whoever wrote that threw that in there.
"It goes really deep. Really deep. I'm from Youngstown, Ohio. My family moved here from abroad and found work in the steel mills. I'm a born-and-raised northeastern Ohio guy. And it means the most to me because I grew up watching all these teams and it's good to do something on my end to bring it back. Not that I did it, I mean, [the players] did everything. But holy cow.”
With the victory, Case Western finalized their record-setting season at 33-4, including a perfect 28-0 mark against fellow D3 schools. The 33 wins is the most in program history and included a 19-match winning streak to end the season. In addition to the NCAA title, the Spartans also won their first University Athletic Association tournament crown this season and won the ITA Indoor National Championship for the second year in a row.
In women's Division III action on Tuesday, the undefeated University of Chicago and defending champions Claremont-Mudd-Scripps both advanced to the final, setting up a rematch of the 2022 title match won by CMS.
Chicago improved to 23-0 behind a 5-1 semifinal victory against Middlebury, with senior Claudia Ng clinching the match at No. 6 singles.
“It feels great. I think we've come a long way," Ng said after her 6-3, 6-2 triumph. "We've had an undefeated season this year and it's just momentum after last year to reach the finals [again]. We're motivated more than ever to try even harder, beat the heat, be better and just improve ourselves every day. I'm really excited.”
Chicago head coach Jay Tee, who coached the school's men's team to the D3 title last season, is now one win away from repeating the feat with the women's program. After dealing the pressure of the undefeated season, Tee feels the team can play free now that they've returned to the title match.
"I told the women after the match: It's harder, I think, to get to a finals with the expectations and the pressure of giving yourself a shot," he said. "Once you're in the finals, you can really let it hang out. We're looking forward to that tomorrow and are learning a little bit from last year.”
CMS also advanced with a 5-1 victory against Emory to advance to their fourth straight D3 final. The win was keyed by sophomore Alisha Chulani, who won a tiebreak at No. 1 doubles with Nikolina Batoshvili to give the Athenas a 2-1 lead and then raced to a 6-2, 6-2 result at No. 1 singles.
The lone blemish on a 26-1 record for CMS is a defeat to none other than Chicago in the ITA Indoors final in March. Asked how his team could turn around that 5-1 loss, head coach David Schwarz had a very simple answer: “It's pretty basic." he said. "They smoked us two months ago and we'll see if we got better since then.”
For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.