Tennis looks to add to success with new faces

Entering his eighth season as UNC Wilmington’s men’s tennis coach, Mait DuBois has built a program that prides itself on winning, and the success is nothing at which to scoff.

In the past six years, the Seahawks have claimed four Colonial Athletic Association championships, and have made appearances in the NCAA regionals in five out of the past six seasons.

During his tenure, DuBois has turned the Seahawks into a national contender, continually receiving recognition in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (the Governing Body of Collegiate Tennis) rankings. The Seahawks finished last season ranked No. 50, and beat seven ranked opponents en route to their second straight conference title.

The Seahawks enter the fall season with a roster filled with plenty of new faces.

Decorated seniors Rafael Aita and Pedro Mol have graduated, and Kaue Pereira didn’t return to the squad this year. In place of the accomplished résumés, DuBois and the Seahawks have a young team, featuring seven freshmen.

During his four years at UNCW, Aita cemented himself as the most accomplished tennis player in school history, securing back-to-back CAA Player-of-the-Year awards, as well as being named to Peru’s Davis Cup team, among numerous other honors.

The Seahawks will rely on the foundation that DuBois has laid during his tenure, and the three-time CAA Coach-of-the-Year has assembled an impressive bunch of newcomers.

“The biggest thing is an absolute passion for their game and to reach their potential,” DuBois said of what he looks for in potential recruits. “They also have to be experienced and have shown a lot of success at a high national level or a high international level.”

Several notables of the incoming class are Josh Du Toit, who was named the USTA North Carolina Player of the Year in 2013, and Javier Restrepo, a five-star recruit from Florida who’s been ranked as high as No. 10 nationally during his junior career.

After ranked the Seahawks’ recruiting class No. 23 in the country (and No. 3 among mid-majors), UNCW was able to add Xander Veys, a late-signee from Belgium. Veys is in the top-100 for World Junior ITF rankings, reaching as high as No. 84 in his career.

With so many new faces, Coach DuBois isn’t resting on his laurels, and he’s molding his approach to coaching based on his roster.

“It’s been a lot of back to basics, and helping the guys settle in,” DuBois said. “The big thing is I have a whole new team, and I’m trying to figure out where we are. These first few weeks we’ve really done a good job with that, and now I know everyone a little bit better. I think the next part will be really important.”

The Seahawk Invitational, which took place from September 12-14, was the first chance DuBois got to see his new-look roster compete. UNCW finished the weekend a combined 34-3.

“It was great,” DuBois said. “Right out of the gate, you never really know how the freshmen are going to respond. It was really nice to see that their match-day personas came out. I thought everyone was a little bit better on match day.”

For senior Zach Hublitz, the success with the program has become expected. The McLean, Virginia, native has seen the team secure NCAA Regional invitations in each of his three seasons, while also capturing two CAA championships in the process as well. Entering the season as one of the veterans on the squad, Hublitz, whom went undefeated in the Seahawk Invitational over the course of his career, will be looked at to mentor the new players, including his young brother, Josh.

“So far it’s been a blast,” Zach Hublitz said. “We’re best friends and brothers, so I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I remember when coach was looking at him, and he came and asked me if I’d be okay with him being on the team. I gave him the green light—100 percent; I wanted to have him here.”

Coach DuBois looks to his upperclassmen, including seniors Hublitz and Sam Williams, to assume a leadership role while the younger guys adjust to the college level.

“With all our upperclassmen I expect leadership, and them helping show the younger guys how we do things here,” DuBois said. “Aside from the tennis part, they have to lead and help others, and so far they’ve done a great job. 

The learning curve from high school to college is tough in any sport, but coach DuBois is optimistic that his young team can make the adjustments quickly.

“It’s pretty big in that everybody is good here,” DuBois said. “All the guys are more fit, and the points are longer. If you were a talented junior, you’ll be a talented college player, but you’re going to have to work a whole lot harder.”

UNCW has several more opportunities during the fall season to help the younger players gain some match experience before heading into the team-oriented spring season. The Seahawks will play in the Wake Forest invitational on October 10-12 before participating in ITA regionals in Cary, North Carolina several days later. The fall season wraps up over Halloween weekend when the Seahawks host the UNCW Team Invite.

With an established culture of winning and leadership from the upperclassmen, the Seahawks and its overhauled roster will head into the spring season with plenty of opportunities to prove itself against top competition. 

This year’s schedule features matches against seven teams that finished the season ranked in the ITA’s final poll, including a match against the University of Southern California, the defending national champions.