ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. -- It’s time to play for real.
The finale of the 2014 NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis Championship -- the Round of 16 -- begins Wednesday at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs, a suburb of Orlando, Florida.
Two Floridan teams poised atop the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings and NCAA tournament bracket -- defending champion Barry and top-ranked West Florida -- are considered heavyweights. But, depth and capability abound.
The top-ranked West Florida Argos (25-0) are playing in their third consecutive Round of 16 and are after their third NCAA title. They won back-to-back titles in 2004 and '05 and lost to eventual runner-up Armstrong Atlantic in last year’s semifinals. The Argos haven’t yet scored an undefeated season, which could be additional motivation. They’re also armed with Division II’s top-ranked singles player, Bruno Savi.
As the South Region 1 champion, West Florida faces Edinboro (19-8) on Wednesday. The Fighting Scotts beat Kutztown in the Atlantic Region 2 final.
The other matches on West Florida’s side of the bracket are No. 17 Midwestern State against UC San Diego, No. 5 Armstrong Atlantic against No. 19 NYIT, and No. 18 Northwest Missouri State against No. 30 Northwood (Mich.).
UC San Diego (15-9) is the second seed in the West Region, behind second-ranked Hawaii Pacific; both teams arrived at the Round of 16 via byes. The Midwestern State Mustangs (18-6) beat St. Edwards to win the South Central Region 1.
“This has been our goal from day one,” UC San Diego head coach Timmer Willing said. “We played a tough schedule in preparation and overcame some hurdles during the year, but now it's here, it's time to go and we couldn't be more excited.”
The Armstrong Atlantic Pirates (18-6) earned their ninth consecutive Round of 16 berth after beating GRU Augusta to win the Southeast Region 1. NYIT (21-5) beat Chestnut Hill to win the East Region 2.
The Northwood Timberwolves (19-3), who have won 14 consecutive matches, beat Indianapolis to win the Midwest Region 2. Northwest Missouri State (17-3) beat Southwest Baptist to win the MIAA Conference title and earned a bye to the Round of 16.
On the opposite side of the bracket, second-ranked Hawaii Pacific (20-2) plays sixth-ranked Columbus State (19-5). The Sea Warriors are the PacWest Conference champions and earned their bye with the top seed in the West Region. The Cougars beat eighth-ranked Lander to win the Southeast Region 2. Hawaii Pacific’s Petr Michnev and Thibaud Berland are Division II’s top-ranked doubles team. Michnev is No. 2 in singles.
The third-ranked Barry Buccaneers (23-2) earned their second consecutive South 2 Region title by beating seventh-ranked Lynn in a match of Sunshine State Conference rivals. They play 10th-ranked Drury (23-2), which beat Southern Indiana for the Midwest Region 1 title.
“Everybody wanted to go back to nationals,” Barry senior Ollie Lemaitre said. “With a new team … we’ve got two new, good players in the top six, and until now they’ve proved they’re really good players. We want to go back there and try to win it again.”
The fourth-ranked Concordia (N.Y.) Clippers (19-4) face 21st-ranked Cameron (18-8), which advances to the Round of 16 for second consecutive year. The Cameron Aggies have played in 19 NCAA tournaments, but never have advanced beyond the Round of 16. Cameron won the South Central Region 2; Concordia won the East Region 1.
The No. 38 Southwest Baptist Bearcats (12-9) advance for the second consecutive year. The Central Region 2 champions, they play No. 48 Bluefield State (18-3). The Big Blues won the Atlantic Region 1.