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Super Bowl Champions Crowned at ITA National Small College Championships

MOBILE, Ala. – The ITA’s “Super Bowl” Champions of Small College Tennis were crowned champions at the 2009 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Small College Championships, where the NCAA Division II and III, NAIA and Junior College title-winners squared off to determine the overall champions. This year’s format had the Division II champions face the NAIA champions while the Division III champions took on the JUCO champions.

These championships, presented by the United States Tennis Association (USTA), were hosted by the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center, the world's largest public tennis facility, for the third consecutive year.

The Super Bowl champions earned wild cards into the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, hosted by Yale University at the Cullman-Heyman Indoor Tennis Center taking place November 5-8, at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center in New Haven, Conn. This tournament is the second of three national championships for Division I tennis and offers the small college participants the opportunity to become champions for all divisions of collegiate tennis.

In yesterday’s semifinal singles and doubles Super Bowl matchups, the JUCO and NAIA champions looked very strong, advancing in six of the eight matches. They continued their success today en route to capturing three of the four championship matches.

The only player hailing from a division other than NAIA or JUCO was Armstrong Atlantic’s Sona Novakova, the reigning Division II Singles Champion. After defending her divisional title, Novakova was able to outlast Jillian O’Neill of Hillsborough Community College 6-4, 6-4 in two hard-fought sets. It would prove to be a frustrating day for O’Neill, who also finished atop the 2009 Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings in her freshman debut. O’Neill entered the day with the opportunity to sweep the women’s Super Bowl draws but would end up walking away on the losing end in both efforts.

“Jillian is a terrific player and was by far the hardest match I had throughout the tournament,” said Novakova. I just kept fighting and tried to play my best but also leaned to enjoy myself out there.”

O’Neill and partner Olivia Howlett, last year’s JUCO Women’s Singles Champion, looked unbeatable for much of the weekend. Apparently though, nobody told the Fresno Pacific squad of Vanessa Heroux and Katia Sabate, who also captured the NAIA women’s singles title. FPU dismantled the Hillsborough duo, giving up only three games to win 6-3, 6-0.

In men’s doubles, local favorite Alberto Gonzalez of Auburn Montgomery was trying to accomplish what Delia Sescioureanu of the AUM women’s team did last year by sweeping both the Super Bowl singles and doubles titles. By teaming up with Michael Johnson in doubles, who was looking to defend his Super Bowl doubles title he won last year with Monte Tucker, Gonzalez was halfway to accomplishing goal by holding off an upstart Middlebury team, the only Division III representatives, with 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory.

Gonzalez,had to get past Collin County’s Damian Hume, who made quick a name for himself on and off the court this weekend. The task proved to be too much for Gonzalez as Hume powered his way to a 6-4, 6-4 victory to add another piece of hardware to his collection.

Hume, a sophomore from Johannesburg, South Africa received the 2009 James O' Hara Sargent Sportsmanship Awards presented by Rolex Watch USA yesterday. The James O' Hara Sargent Sportsmanship Awards go to players who display outstanding sportsmanship and exemplify the spirit of college tennis during the course of the ITA National Small College Championships hosted by the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center in Mobile.

“To me I think sportsmanship means not only being nice to everyone around you, including your opponent, but to really have fun out there and truly enjoy it,” said Hume. “When you do face adversity, it can be tough but be sure to have a strong mind and keep yourself calm.”

Hume lived up to the lofty expectations of being the No. 1 seed in the JUCO men’s singles draw defeating the defending JUCO men’s singles champion, Cledson Carvalho of Laredo, 7-5, 6-3. Last year, the highly-touted freshman finished second in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings and looks to easily surpass the impressive debut he displayed last year.

“Entering the tournament as the top seed can definitely create a target for yourself,” said Hume. “The guy I played has been the top Junior College player for a year and a half now and has not even lost a match. I played him in the Regionals and was able to come through in a really tough match but I knew he would be coming out to be me. In today’s match, I just stayed strong and was able to get the win again.”

“I’m looking forward to playing at Yale and know that as long as I keep playing hard and believe in myself, we’ll see what happens. I don’t think my game has reached its peak so I know I need to keep training and work on improving certain elements of my game and taking it on from there while learning to enjoy it and just have fun.”

For complete results and event information, visit www.itatennis.com.