By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
SURPRISE, Ariz. —
It wasn’t the result the Bluefield State tennis team was hoping for in the NCAA National Championships on Wednesday afternoon, but Louie Belt found it hard to be too upset.
“Look at the scores, we continued to play hard until the end when the match was stopped at 5-0,” said Belt, Bluefield State’s tennis coach. “Had we pulled out that match at 3 doubles, and only been down 2-1, that may have given us a different energy going into singles.
“It was too much to overcome at that point, but it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished.”
Bluefield State (21-3) made its second straight trip to the Nationals, dropping a 5-0 decision to West Florida (26-1), who entered as the third ranked Division II team in America.
The Big Blues entered having also won consecutive WVIAC and Atlantic Region One championships.
“Number one, they were a really good team, they were the third-ranked team in the country,” Belt said. “We got off to a slow start and lost 1 and 2 doubles.”
However, the Bluefield State duo of Niklass Sparr and Vlad Catlan had a 7-4 advantage in the No. 3 doubles, but Felipe Frattini and Elio Latella rallied past the duo for the 9-7 win, giving the Argos a 3-0 lead heading into singles play.
Jacob Carey and Pitor Kruk were defeated by the No. 4 doubles team in the country, Kevin Ducros and Bruno Savi, 8-2 while ITA Atlantic Region Senior Player of the Year Shikhar Kapur and Vishwesh Sinha were defeated 8-4 by Tony Rajaobelina and Domenico Sano.
“The big thing was, we were up 7-4 at 3 doubles and playing to eight and they came back and won 9-7,” Belt said. “Once you go down 3-0, there is a big difference between 3-0 and 2-1. Going down 3-0 took the wind out of our sails a little bit.”
Still, the Blues continued to fight through singles, but lost the top two draws. Savi, who is nationally-ranked No. 3 in singles, defeated Sinha 6-1, 6-1 and Rajaobelina, the 49th ranked singles player in Division II cruised to a 6-3, 6-0 win over Carey for the match.
Kapur and Kruk actually led their singles matches when the match was called.
“I was proud of them,” Belt said. “Even when we were down 3-0, we had won the first set at number three singles, won the first set at number four singles, had the score at 6-5 in number six singles and number five lost the first set 6-4.”
The teams played in 82-degree temperatures at the Surprise Racquet & Tennis Complex, but it was the altitude that was the biggest surprise for both teams.
“I think one thing, and I am not using it as an excuse, but one thing it took getting used to was the ball flies a little bit,” Belt said. “It is a different kind of altitude, it takes some getting used to, but I am not going to complain, they had to get used to it too.”
Belt is confident in continuing the recent success of the Big Blues, even with the loss of Kapur — who he calls ‘irreplaceable —, Sparr and Gautam Sreeram.
“We return a few players,” Belt said. “We have a good nucleus to keep playing well.”
While Belt, like the rest of Bluefield State athletics, isn’t sure what league the Big Blues will play in next season, he does hope to toughen the schedule to prepare for the highest level of college competition.
“I think they (West Florida) were a little better prepared from playing tougher matches throughout the season,” Belt said. “The one thing I think I can do to help us is try to find some of the same level of competition that some of the other teams are playing throughout the season.”
While Bluefield State will return on Friday, the Big Blues won’t leave without having made a positive impression in their second straight appearance at the national level.
“I think the other coach was real complimentary, he said we have got a real nice team,” Belt said. “It in the end there are worst things than to be in shorts and T-shirts hitting a few tennis balls.
“We will try to regroup and get ready for next year.”
—Contact Brian Woodson