NAIA Men's Tennis National Championship Preview
By: Sam Knehans, Communications & Sports Information Intern
MOBILE, Ala. — The 2014 NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship will kick off on Tuesday, May 13, at 1:30 p.m. CDT with eight concurrent matches occurring across 48 courts at the Mobile Tennis Center in Mobile, Ala.
The top eight teams—No. 1 Embry-Riddle (Fla.), No. 2 Auburn Montgomery (Ala.), No. 3 Georgia Gwinnett, No. 4 Vanguard (Calif.), No. 5 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.), No. 6 Cumberland (Tenn.), No. 7 Westmont (Calif.) and No. 8 Belhaven (Miss.)—received a first-round bye and will face Tuesday’s winners in second-round action, beginning at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday.
Defending national champion and No. 1-seeded Embry-Riddle headlines the field. The Eagles won their sixth-straight The Sun Conference Tournament championship this season and are making their NAIA-best 15th national championship appearance, having appeared in every national championship since the current team format was adopted in 2000. Embry-Riddle, which is 18-3 on the year, will put its season-long eight-match winning streak on the line as it looks to defend its national title.
Newcomer No. 3 Georgia Gwinnett will be a force to be reckoned with, as it makes its first national championship appearance—in its first year of eligibility—after winning its unaffiliated grouping tournament championship. The Grizzlies, who are a perfect 17-0 on the season, own wins over 11 ranked opponents from NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and the NAIA.
Perennial powerhouses No. 2 Auburn Montgomery, No. 4 Vanguard and No. 5 Lindsey Wilson are also poised to challenge for this year’s national crown. The teams have combined for 40 national championship appearances, 66 national championship wins and nine national titles.
Ten-time defending Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) tournament champion Auburn Montgomery is riding a 10-match winning streak into the national championship. The Warhawks will be looking for their 10th national title, the most among current NAIA schools and second all-time to former member Redlands (Calif.) (11).
Vanguard, the two-time defending Golden State Athletic Conference Tournament champion, has recorded 10-straight wins, including five against ranked NAIA opponents. Lindsey Wilson, which brought home its 11th-straight Mid-South Conference Tournament championship, has won seven straight matches, including three against NAIA Top 25-ranked teams. Both the Lions and Blue Raiders are searching for their first national titles.
Four of the top five seeds enter the national championship undefeated in NAIA play this season: Auburn Montgomery, Embry-Riddle, Georgia Gwinnett and Vanguard. Lindsey Wilson suffered its lone loss to an NAIA opponent on April 9 when it fell, 5-4, to No. 6-seeded Cumberland. The Blue Raiders avenged the loss by defeating the Bulldogs, 5-3, in the Mid-South Conference Tournament championship match on April 26.
The SSAC leads all conferences with six teams in the national championship field: Auburn Montgomery, Belhaven, Bethel (Tenn.), Coastal Georgia, Mobile (Ala.) and William Carey (Miss.). No other conference had more than three teams qualify for the national championship.
Eight of the 24 qualifiers have made at least 10 appearances at the national championship, led by Embry-Riddle (15). Beyond the Eagles, Auburn Montgomery (14), Vanguard (14), Graceland (Iowa) (13), Aquinas (Mich.) (12), Lindsey Wilson (12), Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) (12) and Bethany (Kan.) (11) have made 10-or-more appearances.
Auburn Montgomery (1987, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010), Embry-Riddle (2013) and Mobile (1993, 1997) are the only qualifiers with at least one national title.
Five teams will be competing in their first-ever national championship—Coastal Georgia, Georgia Gwinnett, IU Southeast (Ind.), Marian (Ind.) and SCAD Atlanta (Ga.).
Seventeen teams return from the 2013 field.
For more information on the 2014 NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship, click here.