The road to Orlando begins Friday as 128 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s tennis programs open play.
A total of 32 local sites will host first- and second-round regionals this weekend, followed by Super Regionals to determine which of the final eight men’s and women’s team will book flights to Orlando where the men will play quarterfinal matches on May 16 and the women May 17. Finally, on May 19 the winning teams will hoist hardware and be called 2019 NCAA National Champions.
Thirty men’s teams and 31 on the women’s side received automatic bids after winning conference tournaments over the past two weeks, so Monday was filled with tension and excitement for the rest of the at-large and bubble teams who learned their fate and found out whether their seasons would end, or continue.
Led by the ITA’s No. 1-ranked player J.J. Wolf, Ohio State (29-2) will bring a 13-match winning streak into the NCAAs. Wolf lost for the first time this past weekend in the Big Ten Conference Tournament. His coach, Ty Tucker, told Andy Katz of NCAA.com that Wolf is already one of the all-time great Buckeyes, and can make history by leading his team to their first national title.
“We’re motivated and keeping that dream of hoisting that big trophy at the end of the season (is our goal),” Tucker said. “We’re just trying to over-achieve. We got beat (by Texas and Texas A&M) and I think losing those two matches has helped us a little.”
Last year’s NCAA runner-ups, Ohio State opens against Horizon League champion Cleveland State (19-7).
Second-seeded Texas (23-3) has made 37 NCAA appearances but – just like Ohio State – has never come home with a national title. The Longhorns are still hurting over a Big 12 Conference Championship loss to Baylor but will look to rebound when they host Tennessee Tech (10-13).
Ninth-seeded North Carolina (18-6) is a perfect 11-0 this year at home and face Patriot League champion Navy (31-13) in Chapel Hill.
Six-time national champion Georgia (13-10) will take on Colonial Conference champion Elon (21-4) while Big Sky Conference champion Northern Arizona (22-6) will make its first trip to the field of 64, facing perennial powerhouse and No. 8 seed USC (20-7).
Led by freshman Brandon Nakishima, No. 5 seed Virginia (21-4) will try to rebound from a shocking second-round loss to Columbia last year when it opens against Big East champion St. John’s (19-5).
Florida (21-3) will be a tough No. 3 seed in search of its first national title and will take on Florida Gulf Coast (14-8). Top player Oliver Crawford calls the Gators a “close-knit” team that has come up clutch, winning some several 4-3 decisions and will have a big home-state advantage if they are to get to the Elite 8 in Orlando. In the same regional are two other Sunshine State schools in Florida State (18-10) and NCAA Tournament host UCF (15-10).
Another first-time school, MEAC champion Morgan St. (14-7), will have its hands full against No. 4-seed and defending national champion Wake Forest (29-3), winners of a second-straight ACC Conference title.
Eleventh-seeded UCLA (17-5) is coming off a semifinal showing at the Pac-12 Tournament in Ojai and will host Grand Canyon (18-6) on the Bruins’ campus courts. Big 12 Conference champion Baylor (22-5) draws the No. 6 seed and will take on Pac-12 at-large team Utah (17-11).
Top-seeded Georgia (23-1) is the SEC Conference runner-up after suffering its only defeat of the season in the conference final to South Carolina. The Bulldogs and head coach Jeff Wallace are seeking their first national title since 2000 and will host Alabama State (13-8) in the opening round.
The No. 4-seeded Gamecocks (20-3) appear at the bottom of Georgia’s side of the bracket so a potential semifinal rematch is a real possibility, but No. 13 USC (18-7), No. 5 Duke (23-3), and No. 8 Vanderbilt (16-7), will undoubtedly have something to say about that.
Defending NCAA champion Stanford (22-1) comes in as the No. 3 seed and head coach Lele Forood always has the Cardinal clicking this time of year. New Mexico State (15-9) is Stanford’s first-round opponent in Palo Alto.
Stanford is coming off a Pac-12 Conference title win at Ojai over No. 7 seed UCLA (18-7), which will host first- and second-round matches on their campus in Westwood. The Bruins will face Northern Arizona (15-8). The winner of that match will move on to face the winner of University of San Diego (17-4) and LSU (16-11) for the right to advance.
Second-seeded North Carolina (29-1) drew South Carolina St. (16-4).
Kansas (19-4) won the Big 12 championship at home and will stay put as it hosts first and second play. The Jayhawks earned the No. 14 seed and will face Denver (17-5) with the winner advancing to take on either Florida (20-6) or Boston College (16-10).
A potential Sweet 16 match-up between Kansas and Stanford is a possibility if both teams win their first two matches.
About the Intercollegiate Tennis Association
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is committed to serving college tennis and returning the leaders of tomorrow. As the governing body of college tennis, the ITA oversees men’s and women’s varsity tennis at NCAA Divisions I, II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community College divisions. The ITA administers a comprehensive awards and rankings program for men’s and women’s varsity players, coaches and teams in all divisions, providing recognition for their accomplishments on and off the court. For more information on the ITA, visit the ITA website at www.itatennis.com, like the ITA on Facebook or follow @ITA_Tennis on Twitter and Instagram.