COLLEGE TENNIS: UTPB looking forward to NCAA Division II Tournament

For the UTPB men’s tennis team, it’s been a historic season.

From winning the first Lone Star Conference title to clinching a spot in the NCAA Division II Tournament for only the second time in school history, the Falcons have had a season to remember.

They’ll be hoping the best is yet to come when the team begins postseason play against Midwestern State in the South Central Regional at 11 a.m. Monday in Wichita Falls.

The Falcons (19-4) enter as the No. 3 seed in the region while Midwestern State (14-9) is the No. 2 seed.

The winner will move on to the round of 16 ,which will be played at the NCAA Division II Championship from May 20-25 in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

“We’re pumped,” said UTPB head coach Alex Hunt. “Our whole goal was to get a conference championship and move on to the regional round and have a shot at finals. We checked off the first box. We won a regular season championship. Now, it’s time to check off the second box and win the regional round.”

UTPB and Midwestern State both won a share of the Lone Star Conference regular season title.

The Falcons clinched a share of the conference crown Midwestern State’s 4-3 loss to Cameron on April 22.

That result, coupled with UTPB’s 5-2 win over St. Mary’s that same day, left both teams finishing the regular season with the same conference record at 7-1.

“It means a lot,” Hunt said on winning conference. “I’ve been in college tennis for 10 years and every year I’ve been in college tennis, I’ve had a shot at a conference title, whether it was as a player or a coach so to me, personally, to finally get one was a an emotional moment. For these guys, as a team, it was what we were striving for and to see them get their hands on that trophy was special.”

UTPB tennis hasn’t been the only team on campus that’s having a successful season as the Falcons won conference in football back in the fall while the women’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Division II Tournament and the baseball team is having its best showing in years.

“To be able to do that when the rest of our department is doing well and join that success is very special,” Hunt said. “As a school, we’re kicking butt. That’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”

The Falcons and the Mustangs have kept it close when they’ve played each other.

Their last meeting resulted in a narrow, 4-3 win for Midwestern State on April 6 at the Bush Tennis Center in Midland.

UTPB defeated Midwestern State during the fall season.

“Ever since we got this group of guys, it’s always been super close,” Hunt said. “In the fall, we played against them in the fall and won 4-3. Then, in the spring, they beat us 4-3. Anytime you go up against Midwestern State, it’s going to come down to the wire. It’s going to come down to which team has the most guts and is going after their shots … you have to be strong physically and emotionally and if we can have the majority of our guys do that, there’s no reason we can’t get it done.”

While this is UTPB’s second trip to the national tournament, Midwestern State will be making its 21st appearance.

The Falcons’ last appearance in the NCAA Division II Tournament was in 2019 which also ended with a loss to Midwestern State in the first round.

“The boys are at a high excitement level but also a high confidence level because of the things we’ve talked about this year, we’re seeing them happen and they’re not just words,” Hunt said. “The belief is there. Now, it’s about going out there on Monday and actually showing up and taking what we want.”

The Falcons have had four players earn All-Conference awards this season including sophomore Vitaliy Horovoy being named Player of the Year.

“It’s exciting to be a part of a program like this. It’s something new and a great achievement for us.” Horovoy said. “A lot of our guys are locked in and focused.”

Takumi Katsuda earned a spot on the First Team Singles team while Lucas Nitzschke earned Honorable Mention Doubles.

This season, Horovoy has recorded a 21-6 singles record (that includes the fall portion of the season).

The duo of Horovoy and junior Jonathan Vega, earned Second Team Doubles.

UTPB junior Jonathan Vega goes for the ball during practice Wednesday at the UTPB Tennis Courts. Michael Bauer|Odessa American

“I think our confidence level is great right now,” Vega said. “Everyone is playing well. I’m playing well myself along with Vitaliy. We’re feeling good about next week.”

Regardless of what happens next week, this season has been an important one for the Falcons.

“It’s meant that we’ve established the name of UTPB,” Horovoy said. “A lot of schools didn’t know about us. It’s a big achievement for us. It’s been a great run for us. It’s great to have so many good athletes here.”