The community got good news earlier this week when Ann Hortman, director of the Rome Sports Commission, told the Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism board that the Atlantic Coast Conference tennis tournament would be back in Rome next year. That was not a surprise to me, but it wasn’t a certainty either.
ACC tennis, as a conference top to bottom, is the best in the nation. Seven of the top 10 NCAA women played during the tournament last weekend Several of the top 25 men were in town for the event as well.
It was truly a crying shame that the public was not able to observe the play because it was incredible. There were some amazing come from behind individual matches but, in the end, the two teams that I had predicted would win left town toting large trophies.
Picking the North Carolina women to win was not rocket science. The top-seeded Tar Heels won their fifth consecutive conference championship and are heavy favorites to win the national championship this year down in Orlando.
The Lady Heels only gave up 17 points in going a perfect 26-0 in dual matches all season. Their No. 1 singles player, Sara Daavettila, was No. 1 ranked in the nation during the tournament but toppled slightly over the past weekend. She was behind in both the semi-finals, to Emma Navarro of Virginia, and the finals, to Kenya Jones of Georgia Tech, at the time the team clinched the win.
That’s one of the weird things about collegiate tennis. Once a team clinches a match, any individual matches that are not finished are abandoned. I suppose that keeps players fresh and avoids chances for injury once the points become moot, but if I were a player, I think I’d want to finish out my match.
By the way, Navarro and Jones have spent much of the season in the NCAA’s top 10 rankings.
North Carolina has a couple of freshmen, Fiona Crawley and Reilly Tran, who are a combined 41-0 on the season.
Not too shabby. The Carolina women are going to be a force to be reckoned with again next season even though they lose a lot of seniors.
The Virginia men’s victory was not as easy to predict in spite of the fact the Cavaliers were a perfect 12-0 during conference play. Their overall record was 21-2, with both losses coming during the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Indoor championship event. They lost to North Carolina in the semi-finals and were surprised by the host team, Illinois, in the consolation round.
They came back to avenge the loss to Carolina during conference play.
Virginia played a line-up with three freshmen — they’re called first-years at UVA — in the top six singles positions. Virginia almost didn’t get past the round during the tournament. However, Jeffrey Von Der Schulenberg, one of the first-years, came back from a 3-0 deficit in the third set of his match to beat Georgia Tech in a thrilling tie-breaker to send the Cavs to the second round against N.C. State.
Virginia bageled the Wolfpack 4-0 to move on to the finals against North Carolina, which mounted a huge comeback in its semi-final match with Wake Forest to edge the Demon Deacons.
Carolina won the doubles point in the championship match, which meant Virginia had to win four of the six singles matches to claim the title.
With the match tied at three, the championship came down to Virginia first-year Iñaki Montes and Carolina fifth-year senior Simon Soendergaard.
It might be appropriate to point out at this point that Carolina played the singles match without two of its top players, William Blumberg and Rinky Hijikata — both of whom were nursing ankle injuries — though Blumberg did play a major role in winning the doubles point.
One can only speculate that longtime Carolina coach Sam Paul was holding them out for future NCAA tournament play.
At any rate, Montes was able to beat Soendergaard in straight sets to give Virginia the win.
The Virginia men and Carolina women get automatic bids to the NCAA tournament but the rest of the field won’t be revealed until Monday.
You can bet it will have a strong ACC influence.
Barring a horrific day, I can’t imagine anyone beating the Carolina women. Virginia, UNC and Wake Forest all can complete for the national championship on the men’s side.
If Blumberg and Hijikata are healthy, the Carolina men will be tough. Virginia has figured out a way to win 15 matches in a row and are on a very confident roll. Don’t sleep on Wake either.
Rome tennis fans will get a chance to see more high-level tennis May 13-16 when the NCAA Division III preliminary rounds of the national tournament are staged in Rome. Again, we won’t know who’s going to be here for a week, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Emory men, and don’t rule out a chance for the Berry women to get an at-large bid.
And if you’re a big fan of the game, the USTA Georgia Adult League team championships are being held at the Rome Tennis Center this weekend.