The FAMU Men’s and Women’s Tennis teams will be chasing the elusive dreams called redemption and vindication, as they head to Norfolk, Va. for the 2016 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Tennis Championships at the Folks-Stevens Tennis Center at Old Dominion University April 21-23.
Both FAMU teams emerged as number two seeds from the Southern Division, and will open the quarterfinal round on April 21.
The Lady Rattlers will open against Northern Division Number Three seed Morgan State at 11 a.m., while the Rattler Men will stare down an old nemesis, Hampton University, at 4 p.m.
Looking Back On FAMU Spring 2016
Both teams have endured roller coaster campaigns which saw them taste both the bitter and the sweet, as they battled their way to shares of the MEAC Southern Division titles.
Yet despite relative sweet of earning a share of the division title, the bitter was the missed opportunity for an outright championship.
For Coach Nikki Goldthreate’s Lady Rattlers (8-11, 4-1 MEAC), their 4-3 match win over defending MEAC Women’s champion Bethune-Cookman University on April 9 was bittersweet, because of a 4-3 loss to South Carolina State, which denied them the undisputed division crown. The team finished the regular season tied with Bethune-Cookman University (BCU) and South Carolina State University (SCSU) for the division title at 4-1.
For Carl Goodman’s, Ph.D. men’s team (7-10, 3-1 MEAC), the bitter was leading the division until the final match on April 9, when they let a 3-1 lead slip away against BCU, resulting in a 4-3 loss, dropping them into a three-way first place logjam with BCU and SCSU at 3-1.
The Rattler men were flying high at 3-0 in the league before that match, after beating SCSU, in a nail-biting 4-3 win which was their first over the defending champion Bulldogs in nearly a decade.
The redemption and vindication for both programs will only come with championship wins – the FAMU Women last won the MEAC in 1997; the men last won it all in 2000 – although both have reached the finals on numerous occasions since.
The Rattler Men (7-10, 3-1 in MEAC), who have won six MEAC crowns, including a run of five straight from 1991 to 1995, have been finalists almost every year since 1995, developing intensely bitter rivalries with Hampton University (1996-99; 2001-03; 2007) and SCSU (2004-06; 2008-14).
The current position for the FAMU Men’s program is a testament to the hard work and dedication of FAMU Sports Hall of Fame coach Goodman.
Goodman’s teams, which have always sported the highest team GPAs and APR numbers, have continued that trend, as they returned to competitive form this year, sparked by junior Walner Espinoza (11-1 at No. 4 singles) and sophomore Karlyn Small (10-5 in singles), along with juniors Carlos Agustin Waitman (7-5 in singles) and Courage Okungbowa (5-6 singles).Espinoza and Waitman have been the leading doubles team for the Rattler Men, compiling a nifty 11-3 season mark.
For the Lady Rattlers (8-11, 4-1 in MEAC), the theme has been “All Or Nothing,” as they have focused on making 2016 a breakthrough season for the program, which has captured four MEAC titles in the history of the program (1987, 1988, 1991, 1997).
Head coach Nikki Goldthreate, a former Lady Rattler tennis ace, has gradually instilled some of the grit and intensity that characterized her play into this year’s squad. Setting the pace in singles for the women so far has been juniors Arrice Robinson (12-6 at No. 5 singles) and Dominique Henry (10-5), along with senior Shantel Blackwood, who has eight wins at No.1.
In doubles Blackwood and Robinson are 8-9 overall, while Henry and Olivia Rolle head the club with a 9-5 mark.