Savarino clinches CAA title, UNCW headed to NCAA Regional

Seahawks win CAA with eight freshmen


Joe Browning/UNCW Athletics

Agustin Savarino, a sophomore from Argentina, clinched the CAA title for UNCW on Sunday, April 23. / CAA.TV

Calvin Shomaker, Copy Editor

UNC Wilmington’s men’s tennis team won its fifth Colonial Athletic Association title on April 23 with a 4-2 victory over William & Mary at the Piedmont Tennis Center in Greensboro, North Carolina. Sophomore Augustin Savarino clinched the championship match when he won at No. 2 singles in the third set 6-1.

“This is a very special group,” said UNCW coach Mait DuBois. “It’s not normal for a bunch of freshmen to win a conference championship. The way they did it, the way that they improve, the toughness they have shown, that is what makes this group special.”

On the way to the championship, the No. 1-seeded Seahawks topped Delaware 4-0 in the first round of the CAA tournament to set up a semifinals showdown with College of Charleston, last year’s winner and the school that had knocked UNCW out of the tournament each of the past two seasons 4-3 in a deciding third set. This year, the Seahawks got revenge with a 4-2 victory in a long, hard fought match that took nearly three hours.

UNCW’s roster has eight freshmen and represents 10 different countries. Three huge singles wins came from international freshmen in the semifinals versus Charleston. After UNCW won at No. 2 and No. 3 doubles to gain the first point of the match, Michael Copeland cruised to a win at No. 6 singles to put the Seahawks up 2-0. Raphael Calzi put the Seahawks up 3-0 with a win at No. 4. UNCW then lost matches on courts one and two, but Daniel Groom’s victory in the third set on court five clinched the semifinals match 4-2. After defeating Charleston, the Seahawks were finals bound for the second year in a row.

Due to weather, the championship match versus William & Mary was moved indoors. Junior Andres Torres and freshman Michael Morphy were the first doubles team to win in the final match. With the doubles point on the line, more freshmen came up clutch again for the Seahawks when Gabe Hocevar and Copeland won a 7-2 tiebreak to clinch the doubles point. UNCW took a 1-0 lead into singles play.

At No. 1 singles, Torres lost to the tournament’s most outstanding performer Aidan Talcott. Then freshman Ignasi de Rueda made it 2-1 with a win a No. 3. A loss from Calzi on court four evened the score at 2-2. Copeland then won the third set of his match at No. 6 to put the Seahawks just one win away from the conference title. Savarino was up 3-0 in the third set on court two when he knew it was time to clinch.

“I knew it was me,” said Savarino, a former No-1 ranked junior player in Argentina. “I told myself, ‘you have to do it, you have to make it’ … Everyone came to my court. Everyone started shouting, and I felt it. I felt it close. When I won the last point, and I lay on my back, it was unreal.”

“When it came down to Agus I thought it was really fitting,” said DuBois. “I knew he could win, and I was just trying to keep him focused. Then when it finally happened … it’s hard to explain. I hated not winning the past couple years, and to finally get it, I was pretty proud.”

When Savarino won the final set 6-1, his teammates ran out to the court to celebrate what they have been working all year for.

“The championship is just an outcome of the work that we have been doing,” said Savarino. “I’m pretty excited because this team is really young, and I’m looking forward to how good we can be. We are getting better every single week. If you looked at us in January and look at us now, we are a completely different team. It’s amazing how much we developed.”

UNCW is now 14-8 on the season, and its only loss of the season to a team outside of the top 50 was in early April at East Tennessee State. Following the CAA finals, de Rueda leads the team with a 14-4 record in singles. Groom has 11 wins, Torres has nine, and Savarino and Copeland each have eight.

Despite the high of winning a championship, Savarino says the team is not satisfied with just a conference title. A first round upset in the nationals could be the breakthrough win this talented young team is bound for sooner or later.

The fate of the Seahawks will be announced on Tuesday, May 2 at 5 p.m. in the Golden Hawk Room in UNCW’s Nixon Annex when the NCAA will determine the 64-team bracket. UNCW expects to be a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA tournament beginning on May 10. The top 16 teams in the nation host the regional rounds. Georgia, Virginia, Wake Forest, and North Carolina are all potential first round destinations for the Hawks.

“Choosing Wilmington I think is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life,” said Savarino. “If I have 100 more lives, I will do it in every single one … I love every single detail of Wilmington. I feel at home here.”

Notable: In 10 years under DuBois, UNCW has appeared in seven CAA finals and six NCAA tournaments.

Quote of the day:  “He is very passionate about his tennis,” DuBois said of Savarino. “He is very motivated. He has been one of our emotional leaders. Him, Andres [Torres], and Josh [Hublitz] have really said ‘this is the culture that we want to have.’ They have set the tone, and the rest of the team just fell into place.”