Alabama Takes Fifth National Wheelchair Title
ORLANDO, FLA. – The University of Alabama marked off an impressive weekend at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., taking home its fifth national title at the 2019 USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships.
“I’m just really proud of this team,” said Evan Enquist, head Coach at University of Alabama. “It’s very unique for this to be our only team event of the year, where we can truly be a college program. All year long we play in divisions, we play against each other, we have men and women, but this group of six players has come together like no other team I’ve ever seen, ever worked with.”
Senior Shelby Baron and freshman Thomas Venos led the wins on day three of the tournament, taking the doubles match. The duo faced off against Jose Estrada and Manuel Gomez from San Diego State University, winning 8-3.
Venos kept up the momentum, defeating Estrada in the first singles flight. Lauren Haneke-Hopps clinched that third and final win for Alabama, toppling Gomez. With Haneke-Hopps win, Alabama made a clean sweep against San Diego, further burnishing its recent dominating legacy with its fourth consecutive national title.
While San Diego may not have come out on top, it was an impressive first appearance at Nationals. The team only started training together in February.
“Since we’re new as a program, we’re still getting our feet under ourselves in terms of having the right equipment,” Steve Baldwin, head Coach of San Diego State University said.
“I viewed this and told the guys, winning or losing is not that important to me. I want to see the process, I want to see the growth, I want to see how they deal with the situations, and I couldn’t be prouder. It’s rare that you get to see growth happen in real time, from day to day, and they are already different tennis players then they were on Friday or Thursday when we got here.”
Later in the day, Venos vied, and fell, for the singles A flight title against University of Florida’s Chris Herman, 6-2, 6-2. Both Venos and Herman dominated in their respective sides of the draw, with Herman dropping only three games en route to the final, and Venos dropped only two.
The 2019 Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Nationals marked the largest iteration of the tournament to date, with 19 collegiate and affiliated wheelchair tennis players competing. As the sport of wheelchair tennis continues to grow, so does the opportunities for those competitors.
“I think they’re different people,” Baldwin said of his team after attending the USTA Collegiate Wheelchair National Championships.
“Manny [Gomez], hadn’t flown since he was three-years-old, and had never flown as someone in a chair before. He was a little nervous about it. We were joking last night like can you believe three days ago you didn’t even want to fly on a plane? And you could see his world expand, and that’s the beauty of something like this. You can grow as competitors, you can grow as people, and as tennis players enter into a different environment that helps you grow as a person. I could not be prouder of how they’ve approached this process.”
2019 USTA Collegiate Wheelchair National Championships Results:
University of Alabama
Singles A Flight
Chris Herman, University of Central Florida
Singles B Flight
Alex Saporito, University of Alabama
Singles C Flight
Auburn Smith, University of Central Florida
Check out a photo gallery featuring all the tournament action here.
Follow all the action on Facebook at USTA Wheelchair Tennis.
Pictured Above: Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Champions, the University of Alabama
- Singles A Flight Winner: Chris Herman (University of Florida)
- Singles B Flight Winner: Alex Saporito (University of Alabama)
- Singles C Flight Winner: Auburn Smith (University of Central Florida)
- Team Winner: University of Alabama