Ten teams eye history at USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Championships in Orlando
Ten teams have a historic opportunity in front of them this week at the USTA National Campus the USTA Collegiate Wheelchair Championships in Orlando, Fla. For the first time in the more than two decades that this event has been held, a champion won't be crowned at the end of this week's matches. Instead, two top teams will return to Orlando next month to play their championship match during the NCAA DI, DII, and DIII National Championships.
Adding the title match to an already-historic championships—for the first time in any sport, men's and women's teams in the three NCAA divisions will all compete for their season-ending trophies in at a single site—is a symbol of continued progress for a rapidly-growing endeavor: While wheelchair tennis is not currently sanctioned by the NCAA, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and NCAA Office of Inclusion recently announced that they are teaming up to help advance the integration of wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, and wheelchair track and field into high-profile, able-bodied collegiate competitions in these sports.
Jason Harnett, the USTA's director of wheelchair tennis, calls the collegiate ranks "the heartbeat of our competitive pathway," and other leaders within the sport's governing body also view this year's event as an opportunity to further equity and inclusion.
“Hosting the USTA’s Collegiate Wheelchair National Championships with the NCAA Championships is a major step forward for all of tennis,” USTA President and Chairman of the Board Brian Hainline recently said. “Whenever we speak of tennis, we are doing so with an inclusive voice–emphasizing that tennis is for athletes of all abilities, and disabilities. Our wheelchair athletes are phenomenal athletes and human beings competing side-by-side with their collegiate colleagues.”
A wheelchair team champion will be crowned at the Campus on May 20—the same day as the Division I men’s and women’s team finals. But first, two teams will have to get there, and the field of 10 at the Campus this week marks an all-time high for the 23-year history of the event.
Seven competing this year were in the field as teams 12 months ago, with Boise State, San Diego State, and Virginia Tech new as group additions this year. Since the event began in 2000, wheelchair users who are either students, staff or somehow affiliated with colleges and universities are eligible to compete either as full teams, and/or as individual competitors.
Alabama's Thomas Venos beat teammate Nathan Hunter to win the co-ed 'A' flight singles title last year, and is back in 2023 to defend his crown, but new champions will be crowned in both the co-ed 'B' and 'C' singles flights. Notably competing for Virginia Tech and in 'B' singles is Angelina 'Gaila' Fosbinder; Fosbinder, raised in Charlotte, N.C., is a former member of the U.S. junior BNP Paribas World Team Cup team, and was named the female Wheelchair Tennis Junior of the Year by the International Tennis Federation in 2021.
The competitive format at the championships will see team ties consisting of two singles and one doubles match, as well as individual singles competition in three flights based on skill level. Singles matches will be played in best-of-three format with a 10-point match tiebreak in lieu of a full third set, as well as no-ad scoring. In the team event, doubles matches will be played as an eight-game set.
Collegiate wheelchair tennis is organized by the USTA and supported by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), the governing body of college tennis, bridging the gap between junior play and the professional tour. Its three-fold purpose is to grow the sport, encourage individuals with disabilities to pursue a college education, and give students with physical disabilities an equal opportunity to compete in intercollegiate sport as a representative of their institution.