With NCAA D3 title in tow, Case Western's James Hopper bound for D1 Virginia
James Hopper felt the sting of a decisive defeat in last year's NCAA Championship, his singles loss consigning Case Western Reserve University to a runner-up finish for the second year running at the Division III men's team tournament. One week later, Hopper won the NCAA doubles title alongside Jonathan Powell to leave the USTA National Campus—but it was the team defeat that stuck with him and the Spartans' program through the long offseason.
Back in the D3 team final this year in Orlando, Hopper flipped the script by clinching the first national title in school history—across all sports—for Case Western.
“It's a moment that you dream of, and especially for the past three years now, 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," said the senior, who is the top seed in this year's D3 singles tournament.
With the elusive team title in tow, Hopper is set to take his talents to the University of Virginia as a graduate transfer next season, when he will join the five-time D1 champs on a scholarship. The New Jersey native's relationship with the Cavaliers program is already a strong one, as evidenced by the vocal UVA support in the stands during the D3 final.
For the first time in NCAA tennis history, the Division I, II and III tournaments are all being hosted at the same site this spring. The occasion provided the Virginia men's team—through to the quarterfinals in their bid to repeat as D1 champs—the opportunity to help Hopper end his Case Western career on a high note.
“We're actually going to go watch a guy that's going to be on our team next year play for a national championship in Division III. So that's going to be very special," UVA head coach Andres Pedroso said on Tuesday's media day.
"He's just an absolute killer competitor. And I think he's only going to play even better with us there, cheering him on... I think it's going to mean a lot to him and we're really excited to have him [at Virginia]. He made such an impression on all of us during his official visit. We feel great about going out there and cheering him on."
In his post-final press conference, Hopper said that he felt and appreciated the support of his future teammates and coaches: "I saw them out there during the doubles and that was a pretty awesome feeling, them all being out there supporting us, bringing great energy for us," he said. "That was something specials, seeing them up there."
For all the great things said about Hopper as he led Case Western to the title—from players, to coaches, to commentators—there was no question who was leading the praise. That would be his current head coach, Todd Wojtkowski, who helped Hopper blossom from a lightly recruited high school player to one of the best in Division III.
Speaking after securing the title for CWRU and the Cleveland community, Wojtkowski reflected on his player's transformation into one the most successful player in school history.
"This guy was cut from his high school team freshman year of high school, and he wasn't really that great of a tennis player in high school," he began. "We knew that when we recruited him and no one else did that we were getting a steal. And his development in the past four years as a player, he represents everything that Case tennis stands for, which is: get better as a person, get better at tennis, and then you'll get better at life.
"And so just to see him setting the tone for the rest of the team and proving how important player development is and how much better you can get in these four years of college tennis—he is literally everything I dream about when I'm working with our players. And he deserves so much credit."
After winning the major prize of the team title with Case Western, Hopper will hope to extend his career as a Spartan with a few more wins in the D3 individual singles and doubles tournaments. With two singles victories on Thursday, he advanced to the quarterfinals.
For more information on the NCAA Championships, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's tournament homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.