With a second consecutive state conference tournament championship at stake, the Bluefield State men’s tennis team responded with flying colors on Sunday.
The Big Blues beat their league rivals from the University of Charleston 5-0 at the Watt Powell Park courts to claim what is probably the last men’s tennis tournament trophy awarded by the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC).
“Number 1, I was very proud of them,” said BSC tennis coach Louis Belt in a phone interview. “I thought they played one of our best matches of the season.”
“It means a lot. Two years in a row they’re champions, and undefeated champions. And, as far as I understand it, it’s in the last year of WVIAC. It’s a part of history no one can take away from them.”
Bluefield State locked up the top spot in the Atlantic Region of NCAA Division II. Both BSC and Charleston, the No. 2 team in the conference, will advance to this weekend’s Atlantic Region playoffs.
He said, “Charleston has been a big rival over the last few years. This is the first time we met in the finals.”
The team’s attitude going into Sunday’s finals was “loose,” Belt said. “Always pretty loose, but very focused. They made a concerted effort to really want to go out and win a championship.”
The Big Blues jumped out to a 3-0 lead with superb play in doubles. Playing as the No. 1 tandem, Jacob Carey and Piotr Kruk notched an 8-3 victory while Vishwesh Sinha and Shikhar Kapur teamed up for an 8-2 win at the No. 2 spot.
Niklas Sparr and Vlad Catlan overcame a late deficit, rallying for a 9-7 victory at the No. 3 position.
Conner Pickering did not allow UC a game in his 6-0, 6-0 victory at the No. 6 slot. Catlan clinched the championship by notching a 6-0, 6-2 win at the No. 4 position.
Then, after a celebration and some photos to document the win, it was time for a post-match meal.
Belt said, “Terry Brown, our A.D. (athletics director), came up to support us. He watched the whole match. We played a great match. He took us out to dinner and we had a great time.”
The team ate at an Indian restaurant in the Charleston area. There, according to their coach, they benefited from the presence of team members Kapur, a senior from New Delhi, India, and Sinha, a sophomore from the Indian city of Mumbai.
“They were able to direct us about what to order,” Belt said.
The team’s next step is to tune up for regional play, which they will host in Bluefield “next weekend sometime,” Belt said. “The fourth- and fifth-place teams in the region will come down and play each other here, and then we will play the winner.”
He said he expects the region pairings, and a time schedule for the tournament, to be released on Tuesday or Wednesday.
At Watt Powell Park
Doubles — No. 1 Jacob Carey/Piotr Kruk (BSC) def. Sam Humphrey/Dennis Okoth (UC) 8-3. No. 2 Vishwesh Sinha/Shikhar Kapur (BSC) def. Matt Sherba/Rico Williams (UC) 8-2. No. 3 Niklas Sparr/Vlad Catlan (BSC) def. James Gammell/Gabe Seymour (UC) 9-7.
Singles — No. 4 Catlan (BSC) def. Okoth 6-0, 6-2. No. 6 Conner Pickering (BSC) def. Nick Bakos 6-0, 6-0.
Bluefield State College sports information director Marlon Furlongue contributed to this story.