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Portrait of a Champion

Texas A&M, 2006
Texas A&M University's Club Tennis Team, winners of the
2006 USTA National Campus Championship.

Texas A&M University secured its place in club tennis history last month by winning its third straight USTA National Campus Championship - its fourth title in five years.  After facing a tough road, the Aggies handily defeated the University of Virginia, 29-15, in the final match to earn its three-peat.

"The competition this year was the best it's ever been," said Matthew Sumrall, the Aggies' captain.  "All of our matches were tight and it just feels good to get another title."

How has Texas A&M been able to remain on top of the club tennis world for so long?  The answer is: early involvement, great leadership, a positive relationship with its varsity tennis teams and, above all else, friendship.

After playing competitive junior tennis and entertaining options to play varsity tennis at a few smaller schools, Sumrall decided to pursue an engineering degree at Texas A&M and quickly hooked up with the club tennis team.  His early involvement gave him the experience necessary to step into the presidential role for his junior and senior years and lead the Aggies' club tennis team of more than 100 members.

"We have pool play and ladders in the fall to establish a lineup," said Sumrall.  "We try to go to at least one tournament every semester as a club where everyone, no matter what level, can play.  We also run at least one inner-club tournament each semester.  It's not always easy to schedule matches against other schools, but we're always sure to get in a match with the University of Texas."

Sumrall has also made sure the club tennis team enjoys its relationship with both varsity tennis teams on campus.

"We're all avid fans of both teams," said Sumrall.  "There's always a good size group of us from the tennis club at every varsity home match.  Texas A&M leads the country in varsity tennis crowd attendance, which is something we're proud to contribute to."

The Texas A&M varsity programs reciprocate this show of support and have opened their courts for the club's practices.  They've also asked the club to come onto the court between doubles and singles at home matches to announce their successes to the crowd and have taken a vested interest in the club's success at the USTA Campus Championship - Texas and the USTA National Campus Championship.

Yet the pervading factor that glues A&M together is friendship.  Similar to Sumrall, teammate Odion Dibua, one-half of the Aggies' so-called "Twin Towers," also joined the club early in his college career.

"I used to go out to the tennis courts to play pretty much every day during my freshman year," said Dibua.  "I saw the club hitting and doing drills and always wondered who they were.  One day I went up and asked them and they told me about it.  So I thought, 'Wow, that is pretty cool.'  I became a member after that and have been closely associated with the tennis club ever since."

Even after having won four USTA National Campus Championships, when Dibua was asked why he likes playing club tennis, the answer wasn't about winning.

"I like club tennis because it gives me a chance to meet and be friends with people with similar interests," said Dibua.  "Over the years, I have met some of my truly closest and best friends through the tennis club."

Sumrall confirmed this sentiment.  "Just being part of the team is really one of my most special memories with club tennis and my entire college experience," he said.

Sumrall and Dibua will be graduating this year, but you may still see them around.

"We feel lucky and privileged to be able to compete with teams from around the nation.  I have enjoyed all six years so much that I am planning on traveling to North Carolina to watch it next year," said Dibua.

And while Texas A&M's board and some of the more recognizable faces on the team will not be returning, their legacy will remain.

"I look forward to seeing what exciting things this group comes up with next year," said Sumrall.  "Of course we'll be back at Nationals trying to pull off that number four!"