FORT MYERS, Fla. - Florida Gulf Coast University senior Richard Stempnowski will be looking to win the school’s first national championship when the 2004 Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Small College Championships are held at FGCU beginning Thursday morning.
Stempnowski successfully defended his Wilson/ITA Southeast Region title with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Matt Umbers of Rollins last weekend. He will be one of eight Division II athletes competing for this year’s singles championship.
Stempnowski finished fourth at last year’s event held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Based on his performance in last weekend’s regional, head coach J. Webb Horton feels he has a chance to improve on last year’s finish.
“For Richard to win back to back regional titles in the toughest region in the nation is an incredible accomplishment,” said Horton. “To play the quality of tennis that he has against top-notch players is a testament to his determination and work-ethic. He has worked extremely hard to compete at this level. With the national tournament held here on campus, Richard is motivated to play well.”
Stempnowski feels the experience of competing in the 2003 ITA Singles Championships, combined with the event being held at FGCU, will be a benefit.
"I know what level of play to expect from some great players and I'll definitely have an advantage playing on my home courts,” said the 5-foot-8 Cape Coral resident. “I practice on these courts and it will be great to have the support of my family, friends and fellow students at the matches. I am excited to represent FGCU to the tennis community and am excited to compete in front of my family, friends and fellow students.”
Horton has put his players through grueling morning workouts in preparation for the ITA regional and national events this fall. Stempnowski has benefited from his teammates, and former Eagles standout Franco Matta, pushing him in daily workouts.
“My goal has been to just go and win by playing hard one game at a time,” said Stempnowski. “Coach Horton has put together a team that has great talent and work ethic and they have pushed me all year to play at this level. I’m also fortunate that Franco has worked with me every morning to improve my conditioning.”
This year’s event, sponsored locally by ASG Software Solutions of Naples, will be the 20th tournament, and the first to be held in Southwest Florida since 1985-86, when the first two tournaments were held at the Sonesta Sanibel Harbour Resort.
The ITA National Small College Championships, presented by the United State Tennis Association, annually crown men's and women's singles and doubles national champions in each of the ITA's four small college divisions - NCAA Divisions II and III, NAIA and Junior/Community College. These championships are the only national tournaments for singles and doubles at the NCAA Division II and NAIA level, and the only tournaments that combine all levels of Junior/Community Colleges (NJCAA Divisions I, II and III, and California Community Colleges). Participants are determined through the ITA Regional Championships, held in September and October, which serve as qualifying tournaments.
At the ITA National Small College Championships each division (men's and women's singles and doubles) consists of the eight champions from regional tournaments played across the country, from which a national champion from each division is determined during the first two-and-a-half days of competition.
The national champions from each division square off in the ITA "Super Bowl" of Small College Tennis during the weekend to determine the overall ITA National Small College Champions, who then earn berths into the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships, a Division I event held each November.
FGCU has partnered with the Lee County Sports Authority and Lee County Parks & Recreation, as well as the Lee County Community Tennis Association, to host the first national tournament of its on campus. Admission is free.
We are excited to showcase FGCU to the ITA tennis family, as this event is a great product resulting from our partnership with the Lee County Sports Authority," said J. Webb Horton, men’s tennis coach for FGCU. "Through the support of our volunteers and sponsors, including ASG and their CEO Art Allen, we are excited to present this prestigious college tennis event on our campus."
This event had been hosted by the HEB Tennis Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, the past two years. Other host cities for the tournament include: Memphis, Tenn., Edmond, Okla., and Boca Raton, Fla., and Minneapolis.