ATHENS, Ga. – Fresh off a fifth straight NCAA regional tile, the Oklahoma men's tennis team racked up three regional honors the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) announced Tuesday.
Senior Alex Ghilea was awarded the ITA/Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sportsmanship and Leadership Award. The honor is given annually to the player who best exhibits outstanding sportsmanship and leadership as well as scholastic, extracurricular and tennis achievements.
“The Arthur Ashe is one of the most prestigious awards in college tennis,” head coach Nick Crowell said. “It recognizes someone that has showed sportsmanship and class throughout their career, but also someone that has won at a really high level. Alex has been leading this program since he got here and has been a model student-athlete in all those areas.”
Ghilea, the team's captain, leads the Sooners in singles wins this season with 18 while playing primarily at the No. 2 and 3 positions. A fiery competitor on the court, Ghilea has led the Sooners to back-to-back-to-back NCAA runner-up finishes, has seen two Big 12 championships and was named the most outstanding player at the 2015 ITA National Indoor Championship where the Sooners claimed their first ever national title. A clutch competitor, Ghilea clinched the Sooners' title-match win at the 2015 Indoors and in 2016 he clinched OU's final four win over Georgia in a three-set thriller that sent OU to the national title match.
A three-time All-Big 12 selection on the court, Ghilea is also a champion in the classroom, earning academic All-Big 12 honors all three years he has been eligible for the honor. In 2016 he was awarded the Athletics Director's Leadership Award, given to student-athletes who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in representing the University of Oklahoma and its teams. The award also recognizes respect to others, accountability, integrity and ability to work with others.
Joining Ghilea as an award winner, junior Spencer Papa was named the ITA Central Region Player to Watch. To be named a Regional ITA Player to Watch, the player must have been ranked nationally or regionally and be one of the top returning regional players next year.
Junior Spencer Papa hits a forehand in the Sooners' win over Mississippi State in the Norman Regional final.
A native of Edmond, Okla., Papa played at No. 1 singles for the majority of the year for Oklahoma. Playing against the nation's best players week-in and week-out, Papa racked up five ranked wins on the year. Currently ranked No. 24 in singles, Papa has four wins over top-25 opponents, including two wins over top-10 foes this year. He is also second on his team with 12 doubles wins, all of which came at the No. 1 position. Papa was named a 2017 All-Big 12 selection in singles and was also named to the 2017 Academic All-Big 12 Second Team.
“Spencer has played well all year long,” Crowell said. “It started at the first tournament of the fall and he has just carried that through. He has worked his way into being one of the best players in college tennis and we're looking for big things from him to finish the year and also heading into next season.”
Rounding out the Sooners' honors, assistant coach Nate Feldman was named the ITA Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year. In his first year with the Sooners, Feldman has been a vital part of the Sooners' 2017 success. During his tenure Ghilea, Papa and senior Florin Bragusi have all reached career-high singles rankings, and he has also been instrumental in developing the Sooners' three freshmen, who all arrived on campus in January.
“Nate has been so valuable to this program in all aspects,” Crowell said. “From player development to recruiting and even handling a lot of small details right from the beginning. He has so much energy and passion for the game. This is a very well deserved award for Nate.”
Assistant coach Nate Feldman coaches up the Sooners' top doubles team during a recent match.
The Sooners are in Athens, Ga., for the week as they prep for a Thursday showdown with No. 3 Ohio State in the round of 16 at the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championships. Oklahoma is making its fifth straight appearance in the sweet 16 and is looking to advance to the quarterfinals for the fourth straight season. The match is slated for an 11 a.m. CT start at the Dan McGill Tennis Complex on the campus of the University of Georgia.