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WILMINGTON, NC (UNCW) — Senior men’s tennis star Rafael Aita is at it again.

The most decorated player in UNCW tennis history late Thursday collected his second invitation to the NCAA Men’s Singles Championships. Aita journeyed to Urbana, Ill., last May with doubles tandem Chris Cooprider and Kosta Blank to compete in the prestigious event for the first time.

“Rafa deserves to be listed among the best players in college tennis, and we’re very excited about this opportunity for him,” said Mait DuBois, 2014 CAA Coach-of-the-Year. “I think last year’s experience will help him a lot. Being an All-American is one of the goals that Rafa has had and I think this is an excellent way for him to finish his college playing career.”

Aita was one of 17 automatic qualifiers for the tournament, which will be staged at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex in Athens.

The NCAA conducts a team championship from May 15-20, featuring 64 schools, and also has a singles and doubles tournament with 64 individuals and 32 doubles teams from May 21-26.

Automatic qualification into the Division I singles championships is awarded to any conference with one or more eligible singles players ranked in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Top 125 for eligible/entered singles players. For conferences with more than one singles player within the ITA Top 125 eligible/entered singles players, the subcommittee applies the NCAA selection criteria to determine which student-athlete is the automatic qualifier from those conferences. All singles players must have a minimum of 13 completed singles matches in order to be selected as an automatic qualifier or an at-large selection.

Aita, ranked No. 50 nationally by the ITA, won two matches at No. 1 singles and once at No. 1 doubles to spark UNCW to its fourth CAA men’s championship two weeks ago in Williamsburg, Va. The Seahawks have advanced to the NCAA team championships five of the last six years.

The two-time CAA Player-of-the-Year owns a 14-4 singles record this spring with 64 career singles victories, one shy of the school record. He was voted Most Outstanding Performer at the 2014 CAA Championships by the league’s coaches and earlier this week was named recipient of the Thomas V. Mosley Award as UNCW’s outstanding male student-athlete.

Aita and the Seahawks travel to Virginia next week for the NCAA Regionals. The Seahawks, who have won back-to-back Colonial Athletic Association titles, will be joined in Charlottesville by the host Cavaliers (23-2), Army (20-5) and Penn State (21-5).
UNCW, ranked 50th by the ITA, will play No. 24 Penn State on Saturday, May 10, at 9 a.m. The fourth-ranked Cavaliers take on the Cadets at Noon. Both matches will be held at the Snyder Tennis Center.


WILMINGTON, NC (UNCW) -– Current UNCW Head Coach Cindy Ho and former student-athletes Becky Berzonski and Yunuen Sanchez were recognized by the Big South Conference as the league announced its All-Decade Teams for women’s golf on Thursday.

As part of the Big South’s 30th Anniversary celebration in 2013-14, the Conference is announcing its first-ever All-Decade Teams to recognize the student-athletes and coaches who excelled in their respective sport since the Conference’s founding in 1983. A committee of Big South Conference administrators served as the official voting panel to determine the All-Decade Teams, with fan voting comprising 20 percent of the overall total.


ST. LOUIS (USL PRO) — USL PRO is pleased to announce the return of professional soccer to St. Louis, Missouri by awarding an expansion franchise to SLSG PRO LLC that will join the league starting in the 2015 season. Longtime St. Louis business executive and soccer advocate Jim Kavanaugh will serve as CEO of SLSG PRO, overseeing the operations of the franchise.

Kavanaugh is also the CEO of World Wide Technology which he co-founded 1990. WWT is one of FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” and has grown into a global systems integrator with more than $6 billion in annual revenue and more than 2,400 employees worldwide.

St. Louis is the third USL PRO expansion team announced for 2015, joining Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC and Tulsa Roughnecks FC, with additional announcements expected in the coming months.

“We are thrilled to welcome St. Louis into USL PRO starting with the 2015 season,” USL CEO Alec Papadakis said. “St. Louis, more than any other U.S. city, has significantly contributed to the development and growth of American soccer on all levels – youth, collegiate and professional. Through the years, St. Louis players, coaches and soccer executives have greatly impacted not only the game of soccer, but the history of American soccer itself.

“The individuals involved with the St. Louis USL PRO franchise have unquestionable integrity and credibility with both the soccer and business communities. Undoubtedly, St. Louis’ USL PRO team, coupled with the storied Scott Gallagher organization, has the formula for making St. Louis one of the most successful clubs in the league.”

USL PRO is the strongest U.S. men’s professional soccer league on and off the field below and in support of Major League Soccer (MLS). Focused on league stability and franchise performance longevity, USL PRO features 14 teams in 2014, including expansion teams in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Sacramento. In January 2013 USL PRO entered into a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership with MLS that features individual team affiliations, inter-league play, and the opportunity for MLS clubs to field a second team in USL PRO.

“Our organization is constantly searching for ways to further our mission: To build the best club in the country – a club that positively impacts the development of our players on and off the field and positively impacts our community,” Kavanaugh said. “We view the return of professional outdoor soccer through USL PRO as a meaningful way to aid the development of area youth soccer players and positively impact our community. We believe the time is right for St. Louis to re-take its place on the national soccer landscape.”

The St. Louis franchise will compete at the 5,000-seat Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo. The team will be led by head coach Dale Schilly, who has nearly 30 years of coaching experience at every level.

“The St. Louis area has waited patiently for the return of professional outdoor soccer,” Schilly said. “It has been gratifying to watch the professional game blossom across the country, yet frustrating for the St. Louis soccer community to not be a part of the growth on the professional level. With the new agreement in place between the MLS and USL PRO, there could not be a better time for St. Louis to be a part of the enthusiasm and passion that comes with this great sport. We have been working diligently in preparation for a team, and the organization is excited about this opportunity.”

St. Louis has begun development on a team name, logo, colors, and uniforms, which will be announced in the coming months.

An associate member of the Big South Conference for four seasons (2001-04), UNCW captured three straight conference titles (2002-04) and produced a pair of league player-of-the-year honorees in Berzonski and Sanchez.

“It is quite an honor for the three of us to be named to the Big South 2000-2009 All-Decade Team,” said Ho. Being a member of The Big South prior to joining the CAA provided our program and student-athletes the opportunity to qualify for three NCAA Regionals, win three Conference titles, win two individual titles and earn numerous All-Conference and Player-of-the-Year honors.

“Becky Berzonski and Yunuen Sanchez are two of the most decorated student-athletes ever to play for the Seahawks. They were excellent leaders on the course, in the classroom and can be remembered for their outstanding work ethic. Becky and Yuni handled pressure situations and big moments with unbelievable calmness and could raise their level of play when the team needed them the most. Both had similar game as they were known for their accuracy and excellent short games, which made them two of the most consistent players in the conference.”

One of the most decorated players in program history, Berzonski posted a 76.73 stroke average in 117 rounds played during her four-year career (2001-05). A two-time All-Big South Conference selection, Berzonski played a key role in helping UNCW capture all three of their Big South titles. The Big South Player-of-the-Year in 2004, Berzonski earned individual medalist honors at the 2004 Big South Championship with a 13-shot victory to lead the Seahawks to their third and final conference title.

“Becky was extremely business-like on the golf course,” said Ho. “She displayed tremendous focus and could keep her emotions very level regardless of how she was playing.”

A native of Puebla, Mexico, Sanchez fashioned a 78.26 stroke average in 103 rounds played during her four-year career (1999-2003). She was named the 2003 Big South Women’s Golfer-of-the-Year after capturing individual medalist honors with a 13-shot victory in the conference championship that season. The two-time All-Big South Selection (2002-03) also helped the Seahawks capture their first two conference titles and make the first two NCAA Regional appearances in school history.

“Yuni was the quiet leader of the team,” Ho noted. “She earned the respect of everyone by how she conducted herself every day.”

Currently in her 12th season as head coach of the Seahawks program, Ho led UNCW to back-to-back Big South titles in her first two years with the program. She was recognized as the league’s Coach-of-the-Year on both occasions.

“My recognition on this list is due to being surrounded by outstanding and talented individuals such as Becky and Yuni,” said Ho. “All of my players on those teams were great to work with and it’s because of them that we were able to enjoy the type of success that we did as a member of the Big South Conference.”


WILMINGTON, NC (HAMMHERHEADS) — Toronto FC announced Thursday that the club has assigned forward Jordan Hamilton on loan to its USL PRO Club affiliate, Wilmington Hammerheads FC.

Hamilton, 18, signed with Toronto FC on January 9, 2014, becoming the ninth player in club history to sign for the first team from the Academy. Hamilton was named to Toronto FC’s 18-man squad three times this season. He made his Toronto FC and Major League Soccer debut on April 12 against Colorado, coming on as a substitute in the 89th minute.

Hamilton joins Quillan Roberts, Manny Aparicio and Daniel Lovitz who were also loaned to Wilmington from Toronto in March as a result of the club’s affiliation.

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