BLUEFIELD — They’re “leaving on a jet plane…”
The Bluefield State College tennis team will have that 1960s song in their heads Monday as they travel to Charleston’s Yeager Airport for a flight to Orlando, Fla., and the NCAA Division II tennis championships which begin on Wednesday.
For the third consecutive year the Big Blues are playing on the national stage. Bluefield State swept past Shaw University earlier this week to take their third straight Atlantic Region championship.
Tennis coach Louis Belt has spent the past several days arranging travel, conducting practices and even proctoring final exams his players are taking this week due to their scheduled engagement in the Sunshine State.
“We’re just getting ready as far as the logistics of it, the flights, working with the NCAA, the hotels, the rental vans, just dealing with all the details that go into preparing to go down and all the paperwork,” Belt said.
In that mix he did not mention actual time on the court. While many in Bluefield are happy to see 80 degree temperatures and an end to winter, Belt is grateful because the warm temperatures are of assistance to the Big Blues.
“I think we’re lucky. The last couple of days have been hot, which we haven’t had,” Belt said. “So we’re trying to get some good practice in before we go down, to prepare us for more than likely some pretty intense heat they will have in Orlando at this time of year.”
With this being the third year the program and some players have been to nationals, Belt is hopeful that there is excitement, not awe and the Big Blues can perform to the best of their ability.
“The first year we went, we were overwhelmed. Last year we really had a tough draw. I think this year we have a real chance to do well,” Belt commented. “We play Southwest Missouri Baptist. Don’t get me wrong, everybody down there is a good team, but I think we have a team that can really compete and do well and win a match. I think this is the time. I’m just really excited for the opportunity.”
Sixteen teams from across the country will take part in the tournament in Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Led by No. 1 singles player Jacob Carey, Bluefield State compiled an 18-3 record this spring and did not lose to a regional opponent. Belt wants to show the rest of the nation that good tennis is played in the Atlantic Region. Additionally, he wants his players to enjoy the experience in which they are a part.
“They’ve played for a long time, since they were little kids, to play something of consequence, of importance,” Belt said. “It’s a time not to be nervous, but an opportunity to be excited to really showcase their talents and to do something that they have been doing their whole lives (playing tennis).”
In addition to Carey at No. 1, Piotr Kruk is No. 2, No. 3 is Aziz Yuldashev and No. 4 is Vishwesh Sinha. The No. 5 player is Anthony Braem and No. 6 is Connor Pickering. Carey and Kruk make up doubles team No. 1. Doubles team No. 2 is Yuldashev and Sinha, while No. 3 doubles is Pickering and Vlad Catlan.
While Belt is excited about the regional win and another trip to nationals, there is something missing, BSC Athletics Director Terry Brown. Brown is currently recuperating from a medical situation and is not on the job.
“Even though (acting AD) Roger Owensby is here, I miss Terry Brown,” Belt said. “I am sure he is real proud and I wanted to share that with him.”
Bluefield State takes to the court for its first match on Wednesday at 4 p.m. against Southwest Missouri Baptist. The statistical stream can be followed at www.ncaa.org.