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Posted: May 14, 2011 3:03 p.m.

Make room, boys

Oxford women win first NJCAA III tennis title, add to men's three

Oxford College tennis made history again, but this time it was the girls' team. After bringing the National Junior College Athletic Association III men's championship back to Covington in 2006, 2007 and 2009, head coach Brandon Feldman guided the women's team to their first national title last week in Tucson, AZ.

The Eagles earned their first women’s team national title by a comfortable margin over second place Gloucester County College. In addition, Feldman was awarded his first NJCAA III Women’s Coach of the Year following the win.

"Personally, it means that I’ve done what I told myself I wanted to do when I came to Oxford," Feldman said. "I know that you’re supposed to write these things down, but I thought that would almost jinx it. I’m pretty sure that I told myself I wanted to win a couple men’s and one women’s title in my time here. It was eight years ago and my timeline for that goal was five years — so I was a little behind on the women’s championship, but I hope that the extra men’s makes up for it. Now it’s time to set some new goals."

The Eagles got off to a quick start, winning all four of their matches — two singles and two doubles — on the opening day of play.

"First round points are extremely important in a tournament with this format," Feldman said. "Not only do you put yourself in the best possible position with the points, but psychological, to see your school’s name on a majority of the draws gives the players a lift — and the opposing teams a definite reason to be concerned."

Oxford kept up the pres

"We were in a similar situation with our first men’s title, back in 2006," Feldman said. "I remember walking outside the courts with the guys, trying to keep up with everyone. Fortunately, we had a good day with most of those matches and all I really had to do was see who would finish first."

Adriti Gulati clinched the title with her win at No. 4 singles. Gulati also won her doubles match, making her the lone player to complete the feat. Gulati was named NJCAA First-Team All-American.

Ayanna Groves repeated her performance from a year ago at No.1 singles when she finished runner-up at the national tournament. But Groves doubles partner Vyjoo Lakshmipathy won the No.1 doubles flight to become the second women’s team in school history to finish the year as the top-ranked doubles team in NJCAA III tennis.

Every player finished either first or second in their flights, marking the first time any Oxford team has placed every competing member on the All-American team. All-America honors are warded for all winners and runner-ups in the NJCAA III.

Oxford's success may come as a surprise considering the programs' infrastructure. Oxford is a feeder school to Emory University and as such, has very high academic requirements. Not to mention, Oxford does not award academic scholarships to its athletes. Nevertheless, Feldman has been able to find quality athletes that meet Oxford's high standards.

"Our admissions standards go up every year for the college and university, and athletics aren’t untouched by that — and we shouldn’t be," Feldman said. "Our athletes aren’t hired hands paid to come and win for the students’ amusement or alumni pride. We’ve been fortunate that there is a subset of young athletes who have either been taught by their families, coaches or supporters or figured out on their own that academic success and athletic endeavors are not mutually exclusive."

Once Feldman gets the talent on campus, he's been able to get the most of them while balancing academic success.

"I’d be lying if I said I would be just as happy if we didn’t win, but the title was made sweeter when I saw all of our ladies’ grades for the semester and saw how amazing they all did in their classes," he said. "When we can successfully help teach our players that we can, and must, learn to balance academics and athletics — and then they do both at the highest levels of achievement possible — then I know that we’ll have successful graduates that we can be proud of later down the road."

Despite the lack of scholarship leverage while recruiting, Feldman has been successful in building both programs. Of course, with another championship under his belt, and a women's no less, the future of the program only expects to get brighter.

"Every accolade helps you with recruiting. If nothing else, it gives you something else to talk to a student about other than yourself or how the team practices," Feldman said. "It also backs up the point that we try to make to prospective student-athletes that we’re not just an average program."

Feldman was also recently named athletic director so his plate if full. That doesn't mean he won't take a few days to relax and reflect on the program's latest accomplishment.

"The more I think about it, the more deep it gets, so I think that I’ll just try to enjoy this for a while," he said. "From the men’s side, I’ve learned that you need to enjoy this while you can because they don’t come around every day."

But Feldman can't rest too long. The competition in NJCAA III is fierce and he knows it will take a lot of effort to maintain that success.

"Winning at any level is never an accident, but there are still many teams who have only had the good fortune to win once and then never get close again," Feldman said. "There’s no guarantee of winning, but with every title, every individual award, every academic award, we can show our recruits that we have the track record to help them be successful.

"The national championships aren’t necessarily a measure of how successful we’ve been, but they do serve as a goal or objective to strive for."

sure throughout the semifinals, making it to seven of nine tournament finals and leaving only Gloucester County and Brookdale College mathematically in the mix.

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