By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For the second straight year, the Bluefield State College men’s tennis team has reached the NCAA Division II national championship tournament — reserved for the top remaining 16 teams at the small-college level.
BSC tennis coach Louis Belt said about his team’s return to the nationals, “Last year, they couldn’t help feeling happy to be there. They were actually kind of worn out. This year, we have the attitude of ‘be more prepared and cause some havoc and win a match.’ ”
The Big Blues (21-2) are scheduled to begin play in Surprise, Ariz., on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Eastern time against the No. 3 team in the nation, the Argonauts of the University of West Florida (25-1).
Bluefield State player Jacob Carey said last week, after the Big Blues won the Atlantic Region tournament, “As individuals and as a team, we have nothing to lose. … We want to be as tough as we can.”
“We’ve played some tough competition,” Belt said. “When we step on the court with a team that’s very good, we won’t feel so overwhelmed, regardless of whether we win or lose.”
Belt said that Bluefield State seemed to be “snakebit” by the selection process for the nationals.
Last May in Louisville, Ky., the Big Blues faced the No. 12-ranked team in the country, Ouachita Baptist University, in the first round. The result, in a match delayed a day by rain, was a 5-0 loss by the BSC contingent. West Florida then beat Ouachita 6-1 the next day, but lost in the national finals.
This year the task facing Bluefield State in the first round is to take down West Florida, which enters the national tournament on a 20-match winning streak.
The Argos’ Bruno Savi is No. 3 in the national individual singles rankings of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA). Senior Kevin Ducros, a three-time all-American, is No. 8.
Two other Argos, Elio Latella and Domenico Sano, played in last year’s championship match at No. 5 and No. 6 singles.
The Big Blues are the top-ranked team in the Atlantic Region but are not in the top 25 of the current national poll. BSC trounced Kutztown (Pa.) 5-0 on April 29 to win the regional round of the NCAA national tournament.
Carey and Piotr Kruk comprise the top-ranked doubles duo in the Atlantic Region. The duo of senior Shikar Kapur and sophomore Vishwesh Sinha is ranked No. 6 in the region.
Kapur was named all-conference by the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for the fourth time in his four college years. He is also a two-time conference player of the year.
Carey and Sinha were all-conference for the first time this spring, after transferring in to Bluefield State.
The Big Blues also have postseason experience from Vlad Catlan, a junior; Niklas Sparr, a senior; Gautam Sreeram, also a senior; and sophomore Conner Pickering.
Belt said that playing collegiate tennis at the national level can’t be explained or even digested in advance.
“It’s an experience none of us experienced,” the veteran coach said. “It’s a ‘learn-on-the-go’ experience, but it’s exciting.”
The winner of Wednesday’s match will play in the quarterfinals on Thursday at 11 a.m. Eastern Time against the victor of Wednesday’s match between U.C. San Diego and Southern Indiana.
— Contact Tom Bone at