By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — For the second consecutive year Bluefield State College is hosting the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Tennis Tournament.
For the second consecutive year the Big Blues men’s tennis team are the No. 1 seed in the region, claiming the WVIAC regular season and tournament championship. The Big Blues are hoping that for a second consecutive year they will participate in the national championships, this year in Phoenix, Ariz.
At the beginning of the season coach Louis Belt and the team had a goal of winning the WVIAC in the league’s final year of competition. The team did that and now their attention turns to regional play on their home court.
“I knew we had a good team with everybody returning from last year and coming off a season where we went to nationals, won the conference and region last year,” Belt said. “We had two additions this year, Vishwesh Sinha and Jacob Carey, who both made all-conference, who were great additions to the team.
“We had some pretty big expectations and some pretty lofty goals and it’s difficult when you expect a lot out of yourself. You don’t sneak up on anybody and everybody knows that you’re the team to beat and everybody brings their A game. I’m very proud of how well the guys played and responded to the pressure.”
The regional tournament gets underway Sunday with Shaw University of Raleigh, N.C., a member of the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) taking on Kutztown (Pa.) University out of the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference), Sunday at 11 a.m. at the Bluefield city courts. The winner of that match will take on Bluefield State, Monday at 11 a.m.
The winner will face a tough BSC squad. No. 1 seed for the Big Blues is Sinha and Carey is No. 2, both in their first year on the team. Shikhar Kapur is the No. 3 seed and Belt believes Kapur is the keystone behind the team’s success.
“If I had to pick one thing where this all started, it would probably be the play of Shikhar,” Belt commented. “He is graduating with a double major of civil and architectural engineering. He has been accepted into graduate school at the University of Charlotte. He has been (WVIAC) player of the year twice, all-conference all four years he has been here. I think if I had to point to one person that has been largely responsible for us being able to achieve on the level we have, it would be him. I can’t say enough about how much he has meant to us as a supremely talented player and as an unbelievable captain and teammate to the other guys.”
The fourth seed for the Big Blues is Vlad Catlan, with Piotr Kruk No. 5, and Conner Pickering holding down the No. 6 seed.
“He (Pickering) is the guy that keeps the team loose,” Belt said. “He’s an unbelievably tough competitor at that position and also keeps everybody laughing on the team.”
Whether it’s Shaw or Kutztown on the other side of the net Monday, Bluefield State will be familiar with the foe, having played both this season.
“We played Shaw in Charleston and won 5-0 and we played Kutztown at a neutral site in Bloomsburg (Pa.) and won 5-1. We lost No. 1 doubles and we had some close matches,” Belt said.
“I think they are both good teams. I’m hoping we can continue to go at them, stay focused and play. If we play our best tennis, if we are able to concentrate on what we have control over and play our best tennis, then it shouldn’t matter what the other teams do.”
Belt is extremely pleased with the performance of the team and believes that it has earned its spot in Bluefield State sports history.
“I know there have been a lot of good teams, but if you’re going to base things on accomplishment, what they’ve been able to do is truly remarkable and I think places this team to be looked at as one of the great sports teams in the WVIAC and absolutely one of the greatest teams in the history of Bluefield State sports,” Belt said. “I couldn’t be prouder of my team and I wouldn’t exchange any of the players for anyone else in the country.”
In the event of rain, the matches will be played at the Sarver Indoor Tennis Center in Bluefield, Va.