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First-timers UMBC here to stay at TOC Nationals

2017 TOC Nationals Day 1 Jostes

By Ashley Marshall

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For those who thought club tennis at the University of Maryland Baltimore County was just a recreational pastime, the team has a message for you: It’s competitive, and it’s ready to compete for a national championship.

The UMBC squad is appearing at the Tennis On Campus National Championship for the first time in its 18-year history this year, and club president Kaitlyn Heo hopes the success will encourage others to take up the sport. 

“People will know that club tennis is not just leisurely, but that it can be competitive,” said Kaitlyn, a biology major who is minoring in Korean. “A lot of people take club tennis lightly, but now they can see that you can compete at a high level, hopefully they’ll want to come out and play.”

The club was started in 2005 by a UMBC tennis player who wanted something more than a one-week intramural tournament. Fast forward almost two decades and the club is one of the best 64 teams in the nation. 

“I’m really proud because last year we came close [to earning a bid to Nationals] but we weren’t quite there yet," Heo said. "This year was a huge improvement. It was a big step and I’m really happy to be a part of that and help get my team here.”

The sophomore is in her second year playing club tennis and her first year as president. She’s taking eight other players to Nationals, including senior Emily Hillman, who is expected to play girls’ singles, and fellow sophomore Serene Mathew, who will partner Kaitlyn in the doubles.

UMBC earned its spot at nationals by advancing to the gold bracket in the USTA Mid-Atlantic Tennis On Campus sectional tournament at Old Dominion in November, claiming the fourth and final bid. All four semifinalists automatically qualify for the final, and UMBC joins sectional winners University of Virginia Club along with Georgetown and the University of Maryland.

It caps off a strong season for the team, which beat Penn State, Villanova and Johns Hopkins on the road to a gold bracket finish at the UPitt Invitational and was a finalist at the University of Maryland Fall Invitational in October.

“Other teams have told us that it’s going to be physically demanding, but win or lose, I know our team is going to give it their all,” Heo said. “It really means a lot, not just to me, but to the faculty and the club sports coordinators. They’re all excited and our team is really close knit. To be playing at this high level, win or lose, it’s going to be great for everybody."

UMBC fell to Texas A&M, 28-20, in the opening match in Pool E, but with two more matches on Day 1 and a full compass draw still to play for, the Retrievers are far from done at their first trip to Nationals.