Ortiz plays in Oracle ITA Fall Championships

In the second episode of Saints Stories, Crusader sits down with NJCAA national men’s tennis champion Gabe Ortiz and his coach. They explain a unique tournament that has Ortiz playing against the nation’s top players.

Saints tennis player Gabe Ortiz represents Seward County Community College at a unique tournament this week. The freshman from Argentina won the national NJCAA singles title last month and was invited to play in the Oracle ITA Fall championships in Newport Beach, California. 

Ortiz plays his first match against Nico Mostardi of CSU today at 1 p.m. You can keep up with live scoring here

Crusader News sat down with Ortiz and his coach, Chase Ashley, before they left for the tournament:

Graphic by Amy Friesen

Podcast Transcript: (This podcast starts out in English, then switches to Spanish – Gabe Ortiz’s first language. It switches back to English at the end.)

Kris Liggett: Hello everybody, welcome back to the Saints Stories Podcast. Today we have Saints tennis coach Chase Ashley and the national single’s tennis champion Gabe Ortiz. The two of them have been kind enough to come join our podcast and answer some questions.

So, starting with you Coach Ashley, can you kind of tell us the process of making the national tournament and what that was kind of like?

Ashley: So basically the format of how it’s set up is, you have eight players in the junior college division that qualify for the national tournament. Six regions, northern California, southern California, central region, southern – which is Texas, then you have northeast and south. And then you have two at-large bids. The winners from each region give you the six. 

Then, you have an at-large process. You had to be a regional finalist, which means you had to lose in the regional finals. Out of those basically, six losers, we get to pick who the best two who get to be thrown in the draw to fill out the eight. Kind of how that worked out. Sanders who was in the draw was the National Runner-Up, he beat Gabe in the regional. 

Courtesy Photo
Gabe Ortiz won the men’s single title at the national junior college ITA cup last month. This qualified him to compete against all of the top men’s tennis players in the United States this week at the Oracle ITA Fall Championship in Newport Beach, California.

We knew Gabe was a great player and put him up for an at-large bid. He won out in a close vote. I’m on a committee with Tyler Community College. Several coaches weren’t happy because they wanted their players in, too. We were able to get Gabe in and they separated them out on the two ends of the draw.

So Sanders was on the top half, he was the four seed. Gabe just went into the draw as unseeded in the bottom half. And then it just kind of worked out to be an all Seward final with Gabe coming out on top.

Liggett: Coach, our champion Gabe is getting a chance to compete against some D-1, D-2 and NAIA next. Kind of tell us about that process for Gabe.

Ashley: Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. Tennis is really the only sport that does this where it takes your national champion from D-2, D-3, NAIA and junior college. They get an automatic invite into the D-1 nationals – which has the top players across the united states. 

Like I tell coaches from other sports, at the end of this tournament, you’ll know who the best tennis singles player in America is in college athletics. In football, you don’t ever see D-1 play D-2 or D-2 play NAIA or anything like that. 

So, Gabe will be able to go to Newport Beach, California. We get to get out of the cold for a little bit next Tuesday. Nice facility down there. We start play on Thursday. It’s one of those … he’ll be guaranteed two matches. As long as he continues to win, he’ll stay in the draw. We’ll stay out there as long as we’re able. If for some reason we are able to play really well, I think on Sunday will be the final and it’s broadcast on ESPN3. It can be on national television.

I’m excited to see Gabe go there, compete against top level competition. It’s nothing new for him. His juniors career, he played a lot of low level pro and traveled around. He’s seen the world. The moment is not going to be too big for him. We are excited to continue to play tennis. He’s the only junior college player still competing.

Liggett: Now we are going to switch over to our champion Gabe Ortiz. I’m also going to hand over the microphone over to our Spanish reporter, Monica Gonzalez.

[Podcast switches languages to Spanish]

Gonzalez: So you’re about to play at a really high level and you’ve played for a long time, how do you feel?

Ortiz: I feel kind of anxious but I’ve been competing really well in tournaments lately, so I feel really confident. 

Gonzalez: You played against your teammate during regionals, how was that? 

Ortiz: Honestly, we were both really nervous because we played against each other the week before and he beat me but I knew that if i was concentrated and put in work, I could win. I also saw him when we both entered the court, I noticed he was nervous and so was I. It took me a little while to get comfortable but eventually, I did and so I scored a few points for myself. He lost chances to get a few points and that helped me win. 

Gonzalez: Was it uncomfortable playing against your own team-mate for a national title? 

Ortiz: No I have played lots of tournaments against him and multiple teammates in my own country, but here it’s different. When you play against your own teammates here, your coaches can’t really say anything, they stay mute. So it’s a bit uncomfortable but after doing it, you get used to it. 

Gonzalez: After losing in regionals but winning on a national levels, what are your expectations to compete against players next week during nationals? 

Ortiz: My expectations are to be concentrated in all the tournaments. I heard that some of the contestants are really good, so i’m anxious to compete. I if I do everything i’m supposed to do though, and train well, then I believe I have a good chance at winning. 

[Podcast switches languages to English]

Liggett: We got one final question for Coach Ashley. So Coach, uh, what are you expectations for this upcoming tournament and also your expectations for the upcoming season in the spring.

Ashley: For this upcoming tournament, it’s just one of those that every match is going to be close. I mean, all of these players can play. There’s going to be no mismatches. We have to focus on all of the little things – the attitudes, the consistency, making sure we are locked in for every win.

I mean, he’s good enough – like I said, he’s played at these high level tournaments that I wouldn’t be shocked if he won this thing. Now am I predicting that he’s going to go and win it? No, but it’s one of those things that I wouldn’t be shocked either way. It’s high level tennis across the board. Who’s playing that day … who’s playing high level … who executes … that’s what it’s going to come down to.

I’m really just excited to obviously get Seward out there on a national scale. Last year was the first year we were able to do that with Nicolas Rouset, who is down at Arkansas now. I mean, it really helped him with recruiting. People knew about him when we went with him last year but actually coaches getting to see him play really blew up his recruiting. Hopefully that will be the same thing for Gabe and not only Gabe but everyone else on the team. Seward has that kind of player, I need to go recruit there.

And then just transitioning into the spring. The spring is about the team. I love the fall but we need to achieve our goal on the team side. We’ve never won a national team championship. It’s never been done, one of those things. And so, we just have to put in the work. It’s always going to be tough. ASA Miami who’s been winning it, TJC and those schools aren’t going anywhere. 

Right now, we are in the off season. We’re working. Right now, we are in the weight room getting bigger and stronger. Also we are focusing on passing classes. They are getting a little bit of a break from me. We are just making sure they pass their classes and finish up their finals and all that. Then, we’ll be back hard at it in January. 

Until then, we are just competing everyday in practice and every match we got and hopefully getting to the national final in May and seeing what we do on that semi-finals and finals day. We’ve finished third the last couple of years. We are tired of third. We want first

Just trying to keep everybody focused and continue to work and be ready to go in the spring.