CHARLESTON, WV (09/30/19) – Fourth-seeded Tom Schmeita rolled through the first set to take a commanding lead, and then held on to defeat Unai Gonzalez of Mercyhurst University 6-1, 6-3 here Monday in the men's singles final.
Schmeita, from regional power Bluefield State, rebounded from a loss in the 2018 final to take his first regional championship and thus qualifies for the ITA Division II/Small College championships to be held in Rome, GA in two weeks. The native of Germany survived several close matches on his run through the field, including overcoming a 4-8 deficit in his semi-final win over top-seed Cormac McCooey of Mercyhurst, 1-6, 6-0, 1-0 (11-9).
Schmeita was a finalist last year before dropping the last match to teammate Artur Figuerre in the title game.
With temperatures in the mid-90's all weekend in Charleston, and very high humidity as well, it meant difficult conditions for the competitors to manage if they wanted to challenge for the title. Several key matches came down to physical conditioning as much as any tennis skills, with players cramping early and often in the later rounds.
But contrary to that trend, Schmeita seemed to get stronger with each set he played, while his opponents faded. His semi-final win over McCooey was evidence, as he rebounded from a bad first set to take the victory and move into his second career ITA final.
"I worked really hard the past three weeks," said Schmeita about his preparation for the tournament. "I wasn't where I needed to be a month ago, but the HBCU tournament we played last week really got me back to a good level and ready for this week."
The win helped soften the blow for BSU as they suffered several early round setbacks. Only Luke Busse was able to move past the second round for Big Blues after he toppled #2 Seeded Ben Lakeman of Charleston in the round of 32. With the tournament seeds falling early, the singles opened up for some other teams to move on the opportunity.
Mercyhurst had a chance to have three players in the semi-finals, but saw their team domination end on the final day under the blazing sun. McCooey and Gonzalez both went down to Schmeita, and Ruri Fraser bowed out in a close match the evening before. But the Lakers' success was the story of the first two days as four of their five entries moved into the R16, and had unseeded Arseniy Sklyarov pull a big upset over Bluefield State's Mohammed Belcora in the first round. Belcora was one of two seeded Big Blues to go down in their first match, as Mohamed Khalil also fell.
"We didn't have the results we are used to the first day," said Bluefield State head coach Louis Belt, "but we finished strong with Tom and Luke and that's going to help us get things going from here. Tom is just a good guy, and he's really deserving (of winning the tournament.)"
The University of Charleston took home the men's doubles title, with Ben Lakeman and Joao Tayar defeating teammates Alex Gracin and Jason Prince in an all-UC final. The score of 6-1, 6-4 was closer than the match as Lakeman and Tayar dominated from the start and were broken just once during their serves. They duo was seeded #2 going into the event, while Gracin and Prince got to the final by upsetting two seeded teams.