NORMAN – The Oklahoma men’s tennis team swept the Big 12 Conference’s 2018 Player Awards, with Alex Bakshi bringing home both the Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year titles and Jake Van Emburgh was named Freshman of the Year.
“I’m really happy for both Alex and Jake for the work and dedication they have put forth this season,” said head coach Nick Crowell. “Both guys have improved tremendously during the season and have been dedicated to the daily process.”
Bakshi was also named to the All-Big 12 Singles first team, while Van Emburgh was tabbed second team. The duo also garnered second team honors in doubles, making a total five conference awards for the Sooners in 2018.
Bakshi becomes the third OU player to earn the conference player of the year award, joining Axel Alvarez (2015) and Costin Paval (2012 and 2013) on that elite list.
After joining the OU roster as a transfer from Texas A&M, Bakshi went 14-2 in dual matches, playing primarily at the No. 1 line. He maintained a perfect, 4-0 record in Big 12 Conference matches, and finished the year ranked first in the Big 12 at the top spot.
The junior went 6-2 against ranked opponents, including four consecutive wins over ranked opponents in conference play, and closed out the regular season on a seven match winning streak. A native of Tblisi, Georgia, he was tabbed No. 32 in the latest ITA release, his highest ranking of the season after entering the list at No. 108.
Bakshi also earned a bid to the 2018 NCAA Division I Men's Tennis Championships as an individual and will compete at the wake Forest Tennis Complex in Winston-Salem, N.C., from May 23-28, following the team championships that run from May 17-22.
“Alex winning both Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year in the same season is almost unheard of. He adjusted very nicely to his new environment here at Oklahoma and when it came time to win, he was clutch in those big moments. I’m extremely happy for him,” said Crowell.
Van Emburgh compiled a 15-3 overall record in singles, recording the most wins by any member of the roster. He was also the only freshman to appear in every match this season, tied for the second-most total wins by a freshman in the Big 12 Conference. His .833 win percentage was also the highest among freshmen in the league, and the Belleair Beach, Fla., native went 3-0 against Big 12 opponents.
Van Emburgh clinched two upset wins for the Sooners, with the first coming against then-No. 5 Texas A&M at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla. With the match tied at 3-all, the unraked freshman outlasted then No. 17 Valentin Vacherot at the No. 4 line. The freshman dropped the first set, 6-1, but fought back in the second set and saved match point to take the frame to a tiebreaker, coming out on top to force a deciding set, which he won, 7-5, to complete OU’s upset of Texas A&M in his home state.
The freshman also clinched for the Sooners against rival Oklahoma State. The contest came down to court two, where Van Emburgh secured the victory with a 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-2, win over Tristan Meraut. Van Emburgh dominated the first set before Meraut came back to win the second after an extended tiebreaker. The Sooners’ freshman gave up just two games in the deciding frame to capture the match for OU for the fourth time this season.
"Jake has been so solid all season for us no matter where he was playing in the lineup. He has been progressively moving up the lineup and is establishing himself as one of the best players in the country. He clinched some huge matches for us as a freshman. I’m excited to see Jake continue this process of growth in his game the next three years here at Oklahoma,” said Crowell, who won the Big 12 Freshman of the Year Award in 1997 as a player at Texas.
As a pair, Bakshi and Van Emburgh compiled a 4-3 record on the year at No. 1 doubles and clock in at No. 68 in the latest ITA release.
The Sooners drew the No. 14 overall seed in the 2018 DI Men’s Tennis Championships, earning the opportunity to host their ninth consecutive NCAA Regional, which includes Georgia, Minnesota and Utah. OU takes on the Utes in the opening round at 1 p.m. CT on Friday, while Georgia and Minnesota square off on the other side of the bracket at 10 a.m. The winners of the two matches will face each other Saturday at noon, with the winner of that match advancing to the championships, held at Wake Forest.
Tickets for the Regional can be purchased here.
For updates, follow @OU_MTennis on Twitter.