Alabama wins fifth straight title at College Wheelchair Tennis Championships

Victoria Chiesa | April 19, 2021

Move over, Baylor and Stanford basketball: another college athletic team is rewriting records and taking home trophies this spring.


The University of Alabama captured its fifth straight title, and sixth overall, at the close of last week's USTA College Wheelchair Tennis Championships at the USTA National Campus in Orlando.


Led by coaches Evan Enquist and Shelby Baron, herself a Rio Paralympian who helped Alabama win four of its all-time titles, the quartet of Jeremy Boyd, Avery Downing, Lauren Haneke-Hopps and Thomas Venos defeated tournament debutants Michigan in the team final, 3-0. 


"Overall, this was the most incredible national championships that I've been a part of," Enquist said. "The number of participating programs, the level of competition and the fierce camaraderie all contributed to the incredible atmosphere felt by those in attendance. The USTA in conjunction with the National Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis Committee put on a spectacular event and the best I've experienced in the six years I've been with Alabama.


"Alabama has had a string of talented players over the past several years that has given us an edge over the competition. However, this year was different: it was the grit and determination of the athletes that carried them through to Alabama defending its title. The level of play was so much higher this year with very close matches against Arizona and then Michigan. It was truly anyone's match. 


"Alabama's dedication to their physical and mental training paid off by the level of professionalism, determination and athleticism seen on court. I couldn't be more proud of the way they carried themselves and represented the Crimson Tide."

Photo credit: Manuela Davies/USTA

"This year's event was by far the most interesting one that I've attended. As the collegiate subcommittee chair, I handled a lot of the communication between the USTA and the programs attending and had to remain very impartial. But when I arrived on campus, I put on my Alabama assistant coach hat.," added Baron.


"I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to stay at Alabama and help coach these past two years. It's given me a different perspective on the game and my life. It has been difficult trying to coach the players when I was their teammate not too long ago. But I've worked hard on developing a relationship with each of them and I feel a lot more comfortable telling them what to do on court.


"It was probably more stressful sitting on the sidelines this year, watching them compete. But I knew they were prepared because of all the hard work they've put in this past year. I am very proud of this team and what they've accomplished, despite all the challenges. They truly deserve this title."


Seeded No. 4, Michigan nonetheless had a strong debut at the tournament, which saw them blank second-seeded San Diego State in the semifinals to reach the showpiece match. The Wolverines were also visited by ATP touring pros Jason Jung and Evan King during the event, who are both alumni of Michigan's men's tennis team.


This year's event also debuted the USTA's new competitive structure in the singles tournament, which consisted of three co-ed divisions of A, B and C. Four schools were represented in the respective finals, and three took trophies. Venos added the 'A' singles title to his haul for the weekend, coming from a set down to beat Arizona's Jason Keatseangsilp, while the latter's teammate, Owen Anketell, won the 'C' singles title in a three-setter against Michigan's Oluwaferanmi Okanlami.


Clemson's Jeff Townsend was crowned 'B' singles champion by walkover over Michigan's Spencer Heslop, after both went 2-0 in the round-robin stage.


Singles Champions

Co-ed 'A' singles: Thomas Venos (Alabama) def. Jason Keatseangsilp (Arizona) - 3-6, 6-4, [11-9]

Co-ed 'B' singles: Jeff Townsend (Clemson) def. Spencer Heslop (Michigan) - walkover 

Co-ed 'C' singles: Owen Anketell (Arizona) def. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami (Michigan) - 6-2, 6-7(5), [12-10]


The USTA Collegiate Wheelchair National Championship began in 2000 and celebrated its 20th anniversary event this year with the largest field in history. Last year's event, expected to be the two-decade celebration, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


"The momentum is shifting and those in the collegiate adaptive sports world can feel it," added Enquist, who also serves on the USTA National Wheelchair Tennis Committee. "I'm extremely excited for the future of our sport, and already numerous additional programs have already pledged to attend in 2022. 


"Wheelchair tennis is on the rise and the opportunities for our juniors to grow up in a world where they can represent their university while getting an education are only improving."


To view more photos from the event, click through the photo gallery below.


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