Pacific men's tennis player celebrates winning big point during 2024 UTR Sports NIT Championship in Florida

'This is huge': College tennis coaches, players praise UTR Sports NIT Championship at IMG

For about eight years, University of Wyoming women’s tennis coach Edgar Dean Clower had participated in discussions around hosting a national invitational tennis championship for college tennis.

College basketball has long had a popular NIT Tournament, but college tennis had been missing that additional postseason opportunity.

Last year, however, UTR Sports and the UTR Sports Tennis Coaches Association changed that with the inaugural UTR Sports NIT Championship. For that, Clower and the rest of the coaches and players at the 2024 edition are grateful and excited.

“There's a multitude of things that make it big, not just for Wyoming, for me, for our team, but for college tennis. This is huge,” said Clower, formerly a member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s operating committee.

“You talk about the excitement around the program? We go back to Wyoming, and everybody's excited. We're playing in the NIT. It's going to be on Amazon [Prime Video]. Promotion-wise, it’s exciting. Marketing-wise, it's exciting. Recruiting, it’s exciting. I can tell all my recruits, ‘Turn on Amazon, watch the NIT, watch UTR.’”

Wyoming women's tennis player hits a forehand at the UTR Sports NIT Championship

The 2024 UTR Sports NIT Championship started on Sunday and concludes Wednesday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. All matches are broadcast on Amazon Prime Video, which is free for Prime members.

WATCH NOW: UTR Sports NIT Championship on Amazon Prime Video

Eight men’s teams and eight women’s teams from across the country started the postseason event. On Wednesday, two champions will emerge with national titles.

But for Clower and the other coaches and players, it’s not just who wins that matters to their programs. It’s that and everything else that comes with competing at the postseason event broadcast throughout the world.

“Every recruit I have will be tuning into Amazon to watch us play,” said Clower, whose Cowgirls made a return appearance to the event before falling in the quarterfinals on Monday.

The University of Colorado women’s tennis team is also making their second consecutive showing at the NIT Championship, along with the Appalachian State University women’s team and the men’s team from Liberty University. Playing in the NIT Championship comes with extra effort, including working around end-of-semester finals for students.

But Colorado coach Anthony Pham said it’s important to get players accustomed to competing at this time of the year.

“We were obviously excited to continue the season and give our team another opportunity to obviously compete together, keep giving the team an opportunity to get used to playing in the postseason,” Pham said.

Colorado was the No. 2 seed last year and fell in the semifinals. This year, they’re the No. 1 seeds and locked in on avenging their semifinal defeat.

Colorado coach Anthony Pham and player Aya El Sayed talk during 2024 UTR Sports NIT Championship

“When I found out that we were going to NIT, we were really excited as a team, because it’s an opportunity for us to play for a championship,” said Aya El Sayed, Colorado’s No. 1 singles player.

“We didn’t want our season to end how it ended. So just knowing that we’re going to come back, play for a championship. It was an amazing feeling, and I think we’re all excited to be here.”

Both University of Tulsa men’s and women’s programs qualified for the NIT Championship, and could be the first to sweep the men’s and women’s titles.

For Tulsa men’s tennis coach Vince Westbrook, coming to the NIT Championship was also an easy decision. “Any chance that we have to play in another event just helps promote college tennis, I think this is awesome,” Westbrook said.

The Tulsa men’s team is the top seed at the NIT Championship, which seeded teams based on their UTR Power 6. Tulsa has a Power 6 of 75.92 and beat Santa Clara University 4-1 to reach the men’s final, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. EST on Wednesday.

The Golden Hurricanes will face the second-seeded Pacific Tigers, who swept defending champion Liberty Flames 4-0 in Tuesday’s other men’s semifinal.

Last season, Pacific’s season ended in mid-April, before even their conference tournament. So Pacific men’s head coach Robin Goodman and his team are especially enthused about the extra time they’re spending together because of the NIT.

Pacific men's tennis player hits a backhand volley during 2024 UTR Sports NIT Championship

“We get the opportunity to practice competing more often, which is going to help us but also the team culture. The team culture is a really important part of the process that I've been going through as a head coach and trying to get these guys to play hard for one another. And so to go on a trip, there's nothing better than that,” Goodman said.

“[Postseason experience] creates a great atmosphere within the group, and it's good for team culture, and it helps them [be] motivated. They want to do this again next year, and take it a step forward.”

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