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Three-peat! Alabama's Venos rules at 2023 USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Championships

Victoria Chiesa | April 17, 2023


They might name the trophy after him: For the third straight year, the University of Alabama's Thomas Venos stormed through the top-flight singles draw at the USTA Collegiate Wheelchair National Championships to be crowned national champion. 

 

In his final year of eligibility, Venos lost just four games en route to the three-peat: He went perfect in round-robin play, and then defeated the University of Houston's Jose Arriaga in the final, 6-1, 6-1.


"It was a good week for me," Venos said. "I played really well in singles, and this was my last one, so it was good to finish on top."

 

The native of Anmore, British Columbia in fact nearly won four titles in his five years on the team: As a freshman in 2019, he was the national runner-up in 'A' singles. (There was no event in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

New champions were gauranteed in both the 'B' and 'C' singles flights, and Nicholas Tijerina and Jacob Wald left Orlando with those titles, respectively. In 'B' singles, Tijerina of the University of Houston outlasted Auburn University's Evan Hiller in a match tiebreak, 3-6, 6-4 [13-11]. 

 

It was also his sweet revenge: When the two played earlier in the week in the team event, where each tie consists of two singles and a doubles match, Hiller was a 6-4, 6-3 winner. 

 

"When I saw were were both in the [singles] final, [I said], I have to beat him, because I'm not going to lose again," Tijerina said afterwards. "I learned from the mistakes I was making. I did my strokes. I was making sure I was following through and I didn't give up. I kept fighting to the very end and it paid off."

The University of Virginia’s Wald was crowned 'C' champion; having just picked up tennis last September, he went 5-0 in his matches for the week, and didn't lose a set along the way. He defeated Virginia Tech's Sammy Kenyon in the final, 6-2, 6-4.

 

"I played in one tournament before this one ... I didn't do too great, but I was just two months in at that point, so I kept training" he said. "It was cool to play against all different people and meet a lot of different adaptive athletes. It's hard to find them, so it's cool to make friends here. It was a super fun, good competition. I'm excited for next year."

 

In all, 30 players from competed in the individual competition across the three flights—just two short of last year's record-setting number. 

 

In the team competition, six-time defending national champions Alabama, Auburn, Boise State, and San Diego State finished as the top-four teams of the 10 that competed, which was also an all-time high for the 20-plus years of the event. Two of these teams will be selected to return in May to compete for the championship alongside the Division I men's and women's team finals in a historic integration for college tennis. 

 

Alabama head coach Evan Enquist, who's been with the Crimson Tide since 2014 and is also a member of the USTA's national wheelchair tennis committee, says he and his team would be thrilled to have the opportunity to play a part in this first-of-its-kind demonstration.

 

"We'd be so excited to get to be a part of this inaugural event [in May], and really showcase to the United States what collegiate wheelchair tennis looks like," he said.

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