By Steve Pratt
The collegiate individual fall tennis season concludes with the playing of a unique and special event Nov. 6-10 in Newport Beach, Calif. Formerly the ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships is the only event in collegiate athletics to feature competitors from all five divisions playing in the same tournament.
That means players from NAIA powerhouses like Georgia Gwinnett and Brenau and NJCAA’s dominating Tyler Community College and ASA Miami have a shot to play against the best individuals from NCAA Division I schools such as Stanford, Duke and UCLA, as well as the best college tennis has to offer in NCAA Division II and III.
In its third year, the National Fall Championships will be played at the Newport Beach Tennis Club and The Tennis Club of Newport Beach. The finals on Sunday will be broadcast live on ESPN3 with the women’s singles final at 11 a.m. and the men’s singles final set for 1 p.m.
“I love the format of the Fall Nationals and getting the opportunity to compete against different divisions and showcasing the talent that we have not only on our own team, but in junior college tennis as a whole,” said ASA Miami men’s and women’s coach Brian Slack, whose women’s team was crowned national champions last spring with the men national runners-up.
Slack will bring Tatiana Simova to California as she defeated Lucie Devier of Tyler in the singles final of the ITA Cup (formerly the Small College Nationals), just one of the many different ways players can qualify for Fall Nationals. See selection criteria.
Slack said a talented player like Simova (Piestany, Slovakia) could pull off a few surprise wins next week. “I think she could do well,” Slack said. “Not a lot bothers her and she doesn’t get overwhelmed in situations. I am excited to see what she brings and how she competes.”
The surprising upsets at Fall Nationals have happened before in the three-year-old event that was played in Indian Wells, Calif., in 2017 before moving to Surprise, Ariz., last year.
In 2017, Kevin Konfederak from NAIA Georgia Gwinnett advanced to the quarterfinals beating players from Division I schools Texas A&M, Ohio State and Florida State before falling in the quarterfinals of the 64-player singles draw to No. 16-seed Thomas Laurent of Oregon.
That same year on the women’s doubles side, Eudice Chong and Victoria Yu of Division III Wesleyan University (Connecticut) also made it to the quarterfinals of the 32-team doubles draw, upsetting No. 6 seeds Jessie Aney and Alexa Graham from the University of North Carolina and then beat a team from Kentucky to make the final eight.
Like Simova, Elyse Lavender from Brenau University received her entry into Fall Nationals by way of her NAIA ITA Cup finals victory, as she avenged an earlier defeat to top-seeded Maria Genovese of Georgia Gwinnett at the ITA Regionals in September.
In his 10th season at Brenau, head women’s coach Andre Ferreira will be making his first trip to Fall Nationals. “I’m really curious and excited because I’ve never been able to compete at this level,” Ferreira said. “I’ve watched a lot of Division I tennis, but to be competing alongside all of these big names and big coaches at big programs is going to be pretty exciting.”
Ferreira said Lavender won’t be intimidated as she’s already played a season at LSU before transferring to Brenau. “She knows already that she can compete at that level and she’s used to that environment,” Ferreira said. “I think it’s going to be a bigger adjustment for me as a coach than it is for her as a player.”
In the semifinals of the ITA Cup, the Boyton Beach, Fla. native Lavender defeated Georgia Gwinnett’s Madeline Bosnjak in straight sets. Bosnjak, a two-time NAIA National Champion, entered the 2019-20 season as the top-ranked player in the nation.
“She has a lot of weapons,” Ferreira said. “If her game is on and she’s in the moment she can play at any elite level. I think she can surprise some people.”
ITA Chief Executive Officer Timothy Russell said the National Fall Championships is a culmination of the fall season where players represent their schools as individuals one final time before they turn their attention to team dual-match play that begins in the spring.
“Mark Hurd the Oracle CEO who recently passed away always talked about creating events of distinction,” Russell said recently. “We want to create memories for these student-athletes who can look back 20 years from now and recall playing in the National Fall Championships.
“We are trying to create events of distinction and that is exactly what our new venue in Newport Beach offers to us,” he added.
Russell said part of what Oracle does in addition to supporting college tennis is to put on customer and vendor events and that a national tennis event at a place like Newport Beach can attract a lot of attention for a company like Oracle to showcase its products.
“Oracle has a very strong following in Orange County and Southern California,” Russell said. “I could see this event being a great success and us returning in future years.”
A list of qualifiers and selections will be announced on Friday (Nov. 1) with draws released early next week. Oracle ITA National Championships information and results will be available at wearecolldegetennis.com.
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 us on Twitter and Instagram.
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