Shaw Tennis: The building of a dynasty
May 2, 2011
Shaw University Athletics is making history, again.
After winning the CIAA Championship in football and men’s and women’s basketball in the same calendar year, the men’s tennis program won its seventh-straight CIAA championship last weekend. Not only that, but for the first time in history, Shaw tennis has been ranked #1 in the Atlantic Region. The program is also hosting the regional finals for the first time. Shaw had a first-round bye on Sunday and will host Bluefield State on Monday at Biltmore Hills Community Center tennis courts at 10 a.m. in the regional finals. Bluefield State knocked off Winston-Salem State on Sunday.
“I’ve been dreaming about [hosting] for a long time,” said head tennis coach Sunday Enitan, a 1994 graduate of Shaw. “That was one of the goals.”
But Enitan has bigger goals and dreams beyond hosting a regional tournament. He wants to bring Shaw University its first ever national championship.
The journey for Enitan to make Shaw a national power began when Enitan was a student-athlete on the Shaw tennis team. He has adopted the model of what Hampton University was doing when it was a member of the CIAA and was dominating – recruit international players.
“I started doing it because when I was playing, we lost to Hampton in the finals every year and they had all international players,” said Enitan who is from Lagos, Nigeria. “They seem to be more into tennis and that’s why I started doing it.”
All six of Enitan’s players are international. All six were All-CIAA as well. Two players apiece are from Colombia and Brazil. The other two players are from Nigeria and Mozambique. Enitan has established some great connections internationally and is able to get top-notch players.
Enitan took over the program in 2001 after being the assistant coach for two years under the coach he played for, Gladwell Williams. Shortly after taking over, it was déjà vu for Enitan as this time he lost to Johnson C. Smith four-straight years in the CIAA championship finals. He finally got over the hump against the Golden Bulls in 2005 and hasn’t lost since.
“I told myself I would not lose to Johnson C. Smith anymore,” recalls Enitan.
He may not lose a CIAA championship for sometime either. Of his six players, four will return next year, including Colombian’s Carlos Guarin and Daniel Vasquez, who are both freshmen. Guarin is the team’s #1 singles player and was named CIAA Player of the Year, while Vasquez is the #5 singles player and was named CIAA Rookie of the Year. Enitan already has his eye on two recruits to replace senior Kalada Kienka and junior college transfer Ataide Suca.
This is clearly the best season in the history of the program. The Bears are 24-1 with their only loss coming to Division I Longwood (Va.). (They also defeated Division I North Carolina Central earlier in the season.)
Also helping Shaw to get to this point is that three years ago, the CIAA was forced to move from the South Atlantic Region, with teams from the Peach Belt Conference and Conference Carolinas (formerly known as Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference), to the Atlantic Region and face teams from the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Armstrong-Atlantic State was the #1 seed for four-straight years and defeated Shaw every year.
Shaw athletics has also made a commitment to tennis funding 3.5 of the maximum five scholarships allowed by the NCAA.
The April 16 tornadoes that hit Shaw hard enough that officials closed school for the remainder of the semester did not affect his team that much Enitan said. The team still went on to win the CIAA championship the following week. They are the only students on campus and stay in dorms that weren’t affected by the storm.
When Shaw and Bluefield State met back on April 6, Shaw defeated the Blues 5-0 at Charleston (WV) University.
“It will be a tough match this time around,” said Enitan. “They will play much better this time around. We have to come to play our A game.”
If the Bears win they will go to the national tournament in Altamonte, FL May 11 – 14, another first. Armstrong-Atlantic State is almost certainly going to be there.
Whether the Bears win the national championship this year or not remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, a dynasty is brewing.