Navarro, Georgia Gwinnett, Emory Take Titles
Charleston's Emma Navarro of the University of Virginia won the NCAA singles title defeating defending champion Estrela Perez-Somarriba of Miami 6-3, 6-1 in a match that lasted 75 minutes. For Navarro, a freshman, it was satisfying to avenge an early season defeat to Perez-Somarriba.
"That felt really good, especially after losing to her last time," explained Navarro. "I think I was able to dictate with my forehand and finish a lot of points with my backhand, and I was able to execute better than I was last time, which is always a good feeling when you have a game plan and you can follow through with it. Credit to her. She fought hard and had a great tournament.”
Navarro is the first freshman to win an NCAA singles championship since Mallory Cecil, a Duke player in 2009. She is the eighth player to win it in her first season. Navarro, with tennis goals outside of college tennis kept busy by mixing in playing a few professional events during the college season. She reached No. 350 in the world in April and is 2-3 in WTA matches in 2021.
“I think (college) is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve had the most fun playing tennis this season at UVA, and I couldn’t have asked for a better coaching staff or a better team to have by my side. I’m sure (fans) watching could hear them out there cheering for me. So, I think it’s been really awesome. We have a great program in place on the court and off the court with fitness. And our team culture is awesome. So, yeah, I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Navarro also reached the semis in doubles and was the only player in the field this year to make at least the semifinals in both championships.
Players and teams from the Southern section earned titles in May at their respective NCAA and NAIA levels.
The NCAA DI men's title went to the top-seeded Florida Gators. The Gators, led by head coach Bryan Shelton, who grew up in Huntsville, Ala. and played at Georgia Tech won their first title in program history and Shelton became the first NCAA DI head coach to win a women’s national title (2007, Georgia Tech) and a men’s national title. Florida defeated Baylor 4-1. Baylor was led to the championship match by Cary, NC's Nick Stachowiak, who was a transfer from Duke.
In the women's DI title match, Texas edged Pepperdine 4-3 to earn the program's third title. Savannah, GA's Kylie Collins was a standout for the Longhorns, going 17-3 in singles throughout the season. She also won an important doubles match in the finals against Pepperdine. The DI tournaments were held at the USTA National Tennis Center in Lake Nona, FL.
Emory dominates Division III
Atlanta's Emory University continued its dominance at the DIII level winning both the men's and women's titles. It’s the third time the Emory men and women brought out the brooms and swept the DIII national titles in the same year (2006, 2003). The Eagles featured numerous former juniors from USTA Southern.
The Emory men, who went 10-3 this spring, held off a strong Case Western surge to win the program’s sixth national title. The Eagles men peaked at the right time, winning its last eight duels of the season.
Emory men’s coach John Browning gave all the credit to the student athletes, especially with all the changes and restrictions they encountered this season. “It’s been a really rough year for our kids. These guys had so many things thrown at them and they have just been resilient and mentally tough."
The women's Eagles were dominant all season long. They capped their run to the DIII title with a clean sweep of Wesleyan to win the program’s eighth national title and first since 2016. The Eagles only lost just 10 total games in the final’s five matches.
NAIA titles go to Georgia Gwinnett ... again
Nobody has been more dominant in collegiate tennis than Georgia Gwinnett College, which plays in NAIA. Under coach Chase Hodges, the Grizzlies have won 13 NAIA National Championships, seven on the men's side and six women's titles.
"It never gets old," touted Hodges after earning the trophies in Mobile, AL. "We aren't afraid to use the word dynasty around here!"
The Grizzlies men have now 147 consecutive dual matches — the longest winning streak in collegiate sports history. In the championship match, the men started strong, took the doubles point and never looked back, defeating Keiser University (FL) 4-1. Hodges says each of his teams is "special" but this one did an outstanding job of adding to the school's tennis legacy.
"This program has established a championship culture and a family attitude, since our very first team in 2014, that's hard to beat. It will keep winning, continuing into the future."
The Gwinnett women overcame a deficit in the finals to oust a tough Keiser squad 4-2 at the Mobile Tennis Center. The Grizzlies found themselves down on the scoreboard and trailing in two more matches before they caught fire in singles.
"I was super proud of that fight," added Hodges. Thirteen Georgia Gwinnett players were named NAIA All-Americans for the 2021 campaign.
With a young team winning a championship, Hodges says this bodes well for the future. “Our newcomers just refused to lose and played their best tennis this week when it truly mattered.”
Former USTA Southern juniors also claimed individual singles and doubles titles. In the NCAA DI women's doubles tournament, Greenville, SC's Makenna Jones took the title with her partner, Elizabeth Scotty. Jones, a senior that was granted another year of eligibility due to COVID-19 made the most of this unique opportunity. Seeded fourth in the field, Jones and Scotty went the distance and defeated No. 19 Collins and Lulu Sun from Texas, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 10-8. Jones and Scotty went 18-2 this spring.
In the men's doubles tournament, a team from Tennessee took down an upstart duo from Auburn. Adam Walton and junior Pat Harper outlasted Auburn's Finn Murgett and Tad Maclean, 13-11 in a thrilling third-set super tiebreaker.
It's the first time two teams from the SEC and USTA Southern faced off for an NCAA doubles title since 2001, when Georgia defeated Tennessee.
In the DII team championships Columbus State (GA), which was ranked No. 1 throughout most of the year in men's play, reached the finals.
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