Hawkeye tennis players stumble in NCAA Championships

Alexa Noel, Will Davies, and Oliver Okonkwo all fell in their respective NCAA Tournaments on Monday.


Casey Stone

Iowa’s Alexa Noel lunges to send the ball over the net during the Iowa Women’s Tennis match against Purdue on Feb. 28, 2021 at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex. Iowa defeated Purdue 6-1.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

On Monday, Iowa women’s tennis freshman Alexa Noel fell to Louisiana State senior Paris Corely in the NCAA Division I Women’s Tennis Championships’ round of 32.

Noel earned a three-set victory over North Carolina State’s Alana Smith in the round of 64 Sunday before she was bounced by Corley, 6-1, 3-6, and 5-7.

Before she faced Corley, Noel hadn’t lost a single match in 2020-21. Noel finished her first collegiate season 24-1.

Per a University of Iowa Athletics release, Noel rolled her ankle in the beginning of the second set in her match against Corley.

“Really tough turn of events,” Hawkeye women’s tennis coach Sasha Schmid said Monday. “Alexa rolled her ankle at the beginning of the second and had to tape it up twice.”

Noel won her first set against Corley, but could not overpower the ankle injury she suffered in the second set.

“I really think that injury changed the dynamics of the match,” Schmid said. “It was a little too much to overcome movement.”

After her injury, Noel quickly lost her next two sets and the match.

“Sometimes that happens in sports and it’s heartbreaking,” Schmid said. “But I am so proud of her and the season she had.”

Prior to her NCAA Tournament appearance, Noel — the 2021 Big Ten Conference Player and Freshman of the Year — hadn’t played a collegiate match since May 1.

“I fought hard, and my opponent really stuck around and had great serves,” Noel said. “I didn’t play to my potential but shook through the nerves.”

Noel wasn’t the only Iowa tennis player to be eliminated from an NCAA Tournament Monday.

Iowa men’s tennis junior Will Davies and sophomore Oliver Okonkwo lost to North Carolina’s William Blumberg and Brian Cernoch in the NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Championships’ doubles competition.

Davies and Okonkwo were defeated, 7-6 and 6-2, in the tournament’s round of 32.

Okonkwo and Davies finished the 2020-21 season 10-3, and garnered a program-best No. 2 national ranking in April.

Okonkwo and Davies’ postseason appearance is the last in Iowa men’s tennis history, as the program was officially discontinued at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

With the Iowa men’s tennis team’s season now over, the UI’s discontinuation of three of its NCAA Division I athletics programs is complete.

In addition to men’s tennis, the UI cut its men’s gymnastics and men’s swimming and diving programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. On Aug. 21, current UI Athletics Director Gary Barta and former UI President Bruce Harreld announced that Iowa would be cutting four varsity sports programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year to combat financial losses UI Athletics incurred because of COVID-19.

Iowa women’s swim and dive was also slated to be discontinued at the end of the 2020-21 academic year. The program was, however, fully reinstated by Barta and Iowa Athletics Feb. 15.

A Title IX battle between four Iowa women’s swimmers — Sage Ohlensehlen, Kelsey Drake, Christina Kaufman, and Alex Puccini — and the UI is still ongoing.

The legal battle is unlikely to result in the reinstatement of Iowa men’s swimming and diving, men’s tennis, or men’s gymnastics.