By Steve Pratt, Brener Zwikel & Associates and Valerie McCutchan
Earlier this month in Cary, NC, a new USTA Tennis On Campus national champion was crowned in dramatic fashion: the University of Auburn came back to win its first-ever national title in a super tiebreaker (23-22) over the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. The Tigers came back from a 21-17 deficit to North Carolina in a thrilling contest.
Down 18-15 heading into the final mixed doubles match, the Tigers tandem of Mitchell Vegas and Ashley Kitchen pulled it to within one (22-21) by defeating the Tar Heel team of Phil Mayer and Roxanne Henshall (6-4). Auburn won the one-game overtime by breaking Henshall’s serve and then captured the super tiebreaker (7-5) to claim the national title.
“Relief!” is the one-word answer Kitchen gave to the media members when asked what she was feeling when Mayer’s final volley fell into the net to end the match. “I was so nervous in that super tiebreaker.”
North Carolina opened the match with a 6-0 lead after a huge win in women’s doubles by Sarah French and Henshall; but Kitchen made it 8-6 with a 6-2 victory over Alexandra Lee.
Vegas, who lost a singles match for the first time this year—falling to UNC’s Connor Cooke (6-3)—said after the match, “I knew I had to come back in mixed doubles. I needed that redemption. There are just so many emotions right now—every emotion imaginable. It’s too much for me to handle.” Yet, Vegas managed to win 13 of 14 sets over the three days with Kitchen winning all 14 of her sets, seven in singles and seven in mixed doubles.
It was one of the most exciting finals contested in the event’s 17-year history according to Glenn Arrington, National Director of USTA Tennis On Campus. “This was absolutely the most exciting and dynamic final we’ve ever had,” Arrington said. “The crowd was pumped, and no one left. Just the atmosphere and the electricity here tonight. It was a great night for tennis, and for Tennis On Campus.”
USTA Southern Section TOC Coordinator Jeff Smith was a ball of nerves throughout the entire Saturday night match, watching two teams from his section battle it out for the National Championship title. “I was pacing all over,” Smith said. “That was a match for the ages.”
North Carolina captain Henshall echoed the sentiment: “It was quite a match. That’s the most you can ask for in tennis. That’s playing at the highest level possible.” You can catch every serve, return, and winner from finals on the USTA’s official webcast of the event, which is currently available on the USTA’s official YouTube channel.
“It was so nerve-racking,” Auburn captain Christian Lyerly said. “It’s huge for the university and huge for all these guys. It was an amazing season.” It truly was, with Auburn pulling off a huge upset en route to the finals, shocking two-time defending national champion UC-Berkeley by bringing an end to their 18-match winning streak on Day 2 of the tournament.
Auburn also had to find a way past Cornell (27-20) in one semifinal, while North Carolina just edged past Florida (25-23) in the other semifinal. Florida eventually went on to claim third place honors as the Gators defeated Cornell University (22-18) on championship day.
At the awards ceremony, the College of William and Mary was announced as the winner of the National Club of the Year award for this season. The award is presented annually to the college or university club tennis team that has achieved a level of sustained excellence while also demonstrating a commitment to giving back to its local community. Pittsburgh senior Brian Rubin was named the 2016 Tennis On Campus National Leader of the Year and Delaware University was presented with the tournament’s Sportsmanship Award.
Remembering these events are more than competition, Co-Tournament Director and NIRSA Director of National Sport Programs Valerie McCutchan said this of the weekend: “I truly believe these students are our leaders of tomorrow. Leading up to the tournament, I work closely with team captains and am able to see their passion, drive, and determination not only on but off the court.” She continues, “Teams work hard all year to get here and it’s always exciting to see the culmination of their season.”
Stephanie McAlpine, Assistant Director for Aquatics and Sport Clubs at The University of Texas at Arlington and Director of Competition, added, “It was great to be a part of the volunteer team from both USTA and NIRSA, and see such a collaborative effort to put on another successful event. This year was the best I have been part of. It was seamless from the first serve to the last.”
Auburn team members included captain Lyerly (Birmingham, Ala.), Marshall Brown (Fairhope, Ala.), Alexandria Hall (Lakeland, Fla.), William McWhirt (Atlanta), Vegas (Spanish Fort, Ala.), Kitchen (Hilton Head, S.C.), and Hannah Shoener (Greensboro, N.C.).
North Carolina team members include captain Henshall (Greensboro, N.C.), Cooke (Greensboro, N.C.), Sarah French (Fort Collins, Colo.), Nelson Hughes (Lakeland, Fla.), Caroline Jones (Richmond, Va.), Alexandra Lee (Charlotte, N.C.), Philip Mayer (Chapel Hill, N.C.), Seth Pinosky (Mosunt Pleasant, S.C.), Louis Rico (Cary, N.C.), and Tracey Yang (Marlboro, N.J.)
Visit the Tennis On Campus website for complete results, stories, photos, and previous champions.
About Tennis On Campus
The USTA Tennis On Campus program features nearly 45,000 college students competing nationwide in intramural and intercollegiate coed club play. Since its inception in 2000, Tennis On Campus has grown significantly and today is on more than 700 college campuses across the country.
The national championship tournament is put on in partnership with NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, World TeamTennis, and the USTA. A match using the World TeamTennis format includes sets of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. Each game during the match counts as a point towards the overall team score.
Developed by the USTA in partnership with NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation, World TeamTennis and the USTA, the Tennis On Campus program gives college students the opportunity to build leadership skills, network in a coed sports environment, and compete on a college team without the rigors of playing in a varsity program. With year-round match play, and regional and national championship competition, students maintain active and healthy lifestyles through their college years.
The USTA is the national governing body for the sport of tennis in the U.S. and the leader in promoting and developing the growth of tennis at every level—from local communities to the highest level of the professional game. A not-for-profit organization with more than 715,000 members, it invests 100% of its proceeds into growing the game. The USTA’s philanthropic entity, the USTA Foundation, provides grants and scholarships and helps under-resourced youth and individuals with disabilities, and supports wounded, ill, and injured service members, veterans, and their families.
Thanks to the volunteers and NIRSA staff who helped make this year’s event a huge success!
- Valerie McCutchan, NIRSA Headquarters, Co-Tournament Director
- Stephanie McAlpine, The University of Texas Arlington, Director of Competition
- David Peters, Florida State University, Championship Announcer
- Brooke Turner, University of Alabama, Results/Tournament Desk
- Jonathan Elliott, University of Arkansas, Player Relations/Test Proctor
- Jonathan Johnston, Western Carolina University, Player Relations
- Katherine Montgomery, University of Georgia, Player Relations
- Austin Shick, NIRSA Headquarters, Player Relations
- Frances Thomas, Armstrong State University, Player Relations
- Sean Willett, Armstrong State University, Player Relations
For more information about NIRSA’s partnership with the USTA and the Tennis On Campus series, please contact NIRSA’s Director of National Sports Programs, Valerie McCutchan.