Brunswick, Ga. – A day after finding out it had earned an invitation to this year's NAIA Women's Tennis National Championship tournament, the College of Coastal Georgia team found out its opening-round opponent for next week's national event.
The Mariners will face off against Indiana Wesleyan in a 2 p.m. opening-round match next Tuesday at the Mobile Tennis Center in Mobile, Ala. The Wildcats are ranked No. 17 in the country and are 22-1 for the season. They won the Crossroads League tournament to earn an automatic bid to the NAIA tournament. The Wildcats are making their 14th overall appearance in the championship.
The winner of the opening match would face top-ranked Xavier in the second round on Wednesday. Xavier is the No. 1 overall seed for the tournament and earned a bye into the second round as one of the top eight seeds for the tournament.
The No. 16-ranked Mariners were among the 24 qualifiers for the tournament which were announced by the NAIA late Monday afternoon. The national tournament is set for next Tuesday through Saturday.
"I am so proud of our student-athletes for putting themselves in position to be selected for the national tournament," said first-year Coastal Georgia coach Kemper Baker. "At this point, our focus is on preparing for exams and finishing the semester on a strong note academically. After that, we will go to Mobile and do our best to represent the College of Coastal Georgia and the Southern States Athletic Conference to the best of our ability. We are very excited to have the opportunity to compete with the best teams in the country."
The women's tennis team becomes the second team from Coastal Georgia to receive a national tournament invitation from the NAIA, following the women's basketball team which earned a berth to the national tournament in March. This is the first year that Coastal Georgia teams are eligible for postseason competition in the NAIA. The school could not compete in the postseason last year as a first-year member school.
The Mariners will go to Mobile with an 8-8 record for the season. They are coming off a semifinal appearance in their first-ever SSAC tournament last month. At the league tournament, Coastal Georgia defeated nationally-ranked Lee University for the second time this season in the quarterfinals which was a boost to their national tournament hopes. The Mariners were eliminated from the conference tournament by third-ranked and eventual conference runner-up Brenau in the semifinals.
Coastal Georgia is one of five teams from the ultra-tough SSAC to earn a spot in the national tournament field. Auburn-Montgomery, which is looking for its third straight national crown and 13th overall, earned the conference's automatic bid by claiming the league title. Other SSAC teams landing at-large berths were Brenau, fifth-ranked William Carey and Mobile, which is 10-4 for the season and got a berth as the host school for the national championship event.
The Mariners are one of five teams that will be making their first appearance in the national tournament. The others are Davenport (Mich.), Evangel (Mo.), Oklahoma Baptist and SCAD Atlanta (Ga.).
Meantime, the Coastal Georgia men did not get an invitation to the 24-team men's national tournament, but did receive votes for the final top 25 poll of the season. The Mariners were a preseason top-25 team and spent most of the season in the national rankings before falling out late in the season.