The Spartans recently won the ITA Division III National Indoor Championships on Feb. 27 at the Mayfield Village Racquet Club in Mayfield, Ohio, with a 5-1 win over the University of Chicago in the final, taking the No. 1 ranking into the beginning of the NCAA spring season.
“We’ve been chasing this feeling all year in practice,” said James Hopper, the team’s anchor at first singles and first doubles. “When it all came together, it just felt like it was right. It helped that a lot of the seniors from last year were indoors. It felt like they were almost still on the team with us supporting. It was a really cool experience and atmosphere to be able to win a national championship like that.”
The process of getting to the top started 14 years ago when coach Todd Wojtkowski took over the program. Entering this season, Case has recorded a .679 winning percentage and 220 wins.
The last two seasons have been both special and frustrating. In 2019-20, the team never got the chance to contend because the COVD-19 pandemic canceled spring sports. The 2020-21 team almost suffered the same fate, but fortunately for Case Division III reversed its course and allowed spring sports to compete.
The Spartans posted their best finish in program history with a 14-3 record — 12-1 against Division III opponents — and reaching the NCAA team championship. However, on the morning of the big match, several players fell ill, forcing the team to reshuffle its lineup and ultimately lose 5-2 to Emory.
Hopper said the ending to 2021 served as extra motivation for the team. He went 4-1 at the indoor ITAs and was up a set during his first singles matchup in the final, but it went unfinished with the team clinching the title. In his doubles match, he made a spinning volley that caught the eyes of ESPN, ranking it No. 2 on SportsCenter’s top plays the following day.
“All teams that win championships make sacrifices and go through some hardships,” Wojtkowski said. “I don’t know if there are many championship teams that literally had to climb and climb and climb for two years basically to arrive at that destination and keep that amount of focus and that amount of intensity. But it truly does line up with Case Western. It’s a whole group of kids that study their butts off, they’re so smart, and they’re super driven to be extremely successful.”
Case may have reached the top, but the ITA indoor championship was just the first step. The team’s focus will shift to bringing home the program’s first University Athletic Association championship. That won’t be an easy task as six of the eight league members are featured in the ITA’s Division III rankings, including four of the top five.
Once the Spartans get through that gauntlet, they hope to rectify last season’s championship loss in the NCAA tournament.
“Our season isn’t over yet,” Hopper said. “We have a lot more things to try and accomplish and set out and do this year. We’re definitely not satisfied with just being ITA national indoor champions. There’s still a lot more things we’re trying to accomplish this year.”