By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
“If this is going to be the last year, we want to leave everybody from the WVIAC with some lasting memories of Bluefield State.”
Those are the words of Bluefield State tennis coach Louis Belt regarding the 2013 Big Blues tennis team. Last season BSC won the WVIAC, hosted and won the East Regional Tournament and participated in the NCAA Division II championship tournament in Louisville, Ky. This season, poised to be the last for the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and with BSC still without an athletic conference home for the next school year, Belt and the Big Blues want to leave a lasting impression.
To put it mildly, the Big Blues are loaded. Last year’s No. 1 player and two-time WVIAC Player of the Year Shikhar Kapur is this year’s No. 3 player on the team. Mix in a few new players Bluefield State is poised to make another run at the nationals.
“We have everybody returning plus a couple of new players, Vishwesh Sinha and Jacob Carey,” Belt said.
“Vishwesh, who transferred from South Carolina State will be playing No. 1. Jacob Carey from New Zealand will be playing No. 2, and then our returning players, Shikhar at three, Vlad Catlan, Conner Pickering and Piotr Kruk rounding out the top six.
“We have worked really hard to get to this point, but it also means there is a lot of pressure on us to do well. I think we’re ready for the challenge and excited for the upcoming season.”
Belt said that excitement and support for the team comes not just from the college itself, but also from the entire Bluefield community.
“It’s a group effort from our athletic director Terry Brown, to Dwight Godwin with the City of Bluefield who lets us use the courts, and the Sarvers who let us use the indoor facility,” Belt commented. “The Skewes Foundation, who does a lot of good for everybody, also helps us. It’s an entire effort from not just me and our team, but everybody and it means so much.”
The BSC tennis team is also a collection of players from around the globe with players from India, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal and the United States.
“These guys are from all over the world and for them to come together collectively, to be so proud to represent us, it just means a lot and we’re ready to take on a challenge,” Belt said.
Goal number one of the team is to win the conference and advance again to regional play. Belt issued a warning to WVIAC tennis teams.
“We are not going to take anybody for granted. We’ve worked really hard,” Belt said. “But our goal this year, if this is going to be the last year of the WVIAC, Charleston, West Liberty, West Virginia Wesleyan, they’d better come ready to play because I’ll be honest, our goal is to within the rules, annihilate everybody they put in front of us and get ready to do something special at the next level.”
The players share Belt’s enthusiasm.
“We start on the 23rd of February with our season and I’m really looking forward to it,” Sinha said. “Everybody is working really hard on the team, all the guys are trying to put in a lot of effort, trying to really perform hard.”
The native of Mumbai, India, who is playing his first year at BSC and is the No. 1 seed said the diverse playing nature of each player is of value to the team.
“We have different players. Vlad, from Portugal, we play a similar game to me, a flat game, and there are some players like one from New Zealand, another guy from Florida, they play a lot of top spin, so we have a lot of variation on the team.”
Sinha comes from an athletic family where he started playing tennis at the age of 9.
“I come from a sports family,” Sinha said. “My dad was a professional boxer and my mom was a national badminton player. That motivated me to get into tennis.”
Conner Pickering is from Vero Beach, Fla., and is in his second year at Bluefield State. He is impressed by the talent on the squad.
“Last year we just had six players really good and still our depth was phenomenal,” Pickering said. “Now we have two even better players and our chemistry is even better than last year. We all get along. We are really fortunate to have such a good, compatible team.
“We all like to hang out with each other. We are all funny, laid-back guys, nothing too serious, but we like to practice hard, so that helps too.”
As for Bluefield State being the front-runner in the WVIAC, Pickering likes that position.
“It feels good,” Pickering said. “I hope some people bring it on. It’s always fun and it’s good to be competitive out there.”
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org