While the Iowa men’s and women’s tennis teams did not qualify, three Hawkeyes received a bid for the NCAA singles and doubles tournament at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida.
Iowa’s No. 1 men’s doubles pair, sophomore Oliver Okonkwo and junior Will Davies, will be competing in the men’s doubles tournament this week. Hawkeye freshman Alexa Noel will make the trip for the women’s singles tournament as a 9-16 seed.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association does not determine specific seeds for players in 9-16 overall seeding, but Noel’s status as a top-16 women’s singles player earns her automatic All-American status.
Noel is the first All-American in Iowa women’s tennis history and the program’s first conference player of the year.
The freshman standout was named the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Year, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, All-Big Ten, and an All-American.
Noel went undefeated throughout her first season as a Hawkeye, finishing her freshman campaign with 23 victories. The Summit, New Jersey, native received an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament after she won the Big Ten Women’s Tennis Singles Tournament.
“All I can do is trust my training and the progress I’ve made,” Noel said. “My first round is going to be tough and hopefully I can get through that.”
All of Noel’s wins this season came at the No. 1 spot in the lineup, and she took down eight ranked opponents during the 2021 season.
“Every day is different and it is going to be tough,” Noel said. “It’s just about taking it one match at a time and then we will see. Maybe I can do something great.”
In her young collegiate career, Noel is already the most accomplished Hawkeye women’s tennis player. While the former No. 4 ranked International Tennis Federation junior is considering a professional career after this season, she has not ruled out a return to Iowa for a sophomore campaign.
With the 13-7 women’s tennis team failing to receive a team bid for the NCAA tournament this season, a feeling of unfinished business may open the door for Noel’s return.
“I can’t say if this tournament will have an effect on my decision, but it obviously was a bit of a blow not making the NCAA tournament,” Noel said. “Regardless of if I stay or go, there is still a lot more to be accomplished in my career and as a Hawkeye as well.”
Noel will face North Carolina State junior Alana Smith in the round of 64 Sunday at 1 p.m. Smith went 16-5 in the 2021 season, winning five of her past six matches prior to the national tournament.
Davies and Okonkwo will take the court in the 32-team men’s doubles tournament Monday against No. 2 William Blumberg/Brian Cernoch from North Carolina.
Davies and Okonkwo went 10-2 on the year, racking up four wins against ranked opponents.
The Davies/Okonkwo pairing held a rank as high as a program-best No. 2 during the 2020-21 campaign, but fell down to No. 17 by the end of the season.
“We are confident in our pairing,” Okonkwo said in a release. “We have confidence that we will play well and do the best we can.”
Iowa’s No. 1 men’s doubles pair has experience at the national level, as they were the first Hawkeyes in over 20 years to be invited to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Fall National Championships in 2019.
The pair won three of their five matches at the 2019 ITA Fall National Championships, making it to the consolation bracket championship match.
With the men’s tennis program officially discontinued due to financial losses in Iowa Athletics from COVID-19, Davies and Okonkwo will be the last Hawkeye men’s tennis players to compete at the varsity level.
“Qualifying for the NCAA Championships is a remarkable achievement, but we still have work to do.” Davies said in a release.
Davies and Okonkwo will open up their NCAA tournament run Monday.