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Minium: ODU Coach Dominic Manilla has Monarch Women's Tennis Program in a Very Good Place


By Harry Minium
When you take a deep dive into the Oracle ITA NCAA Division I women's tennis rankings, you notice that nearly all of the Top 50 programs are Power 5 schools. The few mid-majors you see are largely elite private schools or programs in sun-rich Florida or California.
Ranked 30th nationally, Old Dominion University is the outlier, but it's one that the college tennis world had better get accustomed to.
In his tenth season as ODU's head coach, Dominic Manilla has the Monarchs in a really good place. The Monarchs head to Chapel Hill, N.C. on Friday to take on No. 32 Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Should ODU win, and it will be difficult to defeat the Razorbacks, the Monarchs then likely will take on No. 1 North Carolina on its home court.
That doesn't seem to be the kind of seeding that ODU deserves, but when asked about taking on a tough SEC team and then facing the nation's best program, Manilla shrugged his shoulders and said in this season of COVID-19, you have to accept what they give you.
The NCAA did its best to keep regional foes together to cut down on travel.
Regardless, ODU (12-4) comes into Chapel Hill after a dominant season. The Monarchs have won 10 matches in a row and outscored their last 10 opponents, 51-11.

Manilla was named Conference USA Coach of the Year for the third season in a row and Yulia Starodubtseva, a junior from the Ukraine, was named Player of the Year.
Tatsiana Sasnouskaya, Holly Hutchinson, Alesya Yakubovich and Alexandra Viktorovich also garnered C-USA honors.
It took Manilla a few years to get his program established, but clearly, ODU is now the program everyone is chasing in Conference USA.
The Monarchs advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2019 and would have gone last season had the pandemic not shut down all college spring sports. ODU was ranked 25th when they hung up their rackets.
He has built a recruiting pipeline to Europe that gets more bountiful every season. His roster has two players from Belarus with others from the Ukraine, Israel, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Brooke Pilkington, a senior from Virginia Beach, is the only American on the roster.
Holly Hutchinson, the No. 1 player from London, is a senior, but not to worry. Manilla has signed Sophia Johnson, one of the top players from the United Kingdom, and he beat some stout competition – LSU, South Carolina, Florida State and Southern California.
ODU's culture of winning, combined with great facilities – the Folkes Stevens Tennis Center is as fine an indoor tennis facility as you'll find anywhere – have made the University a destination for great tennis players.

 ODU's Yulia Starodubtseva

"With the type of program we have now, this has become a desirable place for women's tennis players of this caliber," Manilla said.
"We've had so much success," added Pilkington, "that great tennis players want to come to Old Dominion."
That success doesn't stop with the women. The ODU men's tennis team began the year by losing its first five matches, but rallied to win eight of its last 11.
The Monarchs fell to Middle Tennessee in the Conference USA final. It was the fourth time in the last five seasons that coach Dominik Mueller has taken his Monarchs to the C-USA championship.
"The resiliency we showed this season to get to this point is unprecedented in my tenure here at ODU," he said. "We started the season 0-5 and didn't have one week all semester with all of our players healthy in practice.
"We kept pushing, continued fighting, and most importantly our guys always believed in us coaches."
Mueller, from Germany, has only one senior on his roster.
Starodubtseva, ODU's star from the Ukraine, also had a number of big-time offers, but she chose ODU largely because of its success with international players.
"There were Ukranians on the team and that meant a lot to me," she said. "I did not speak English so well when I got here and my teammates made me feel comfortable."
But it was Manilla that sealed the deal, she said.
"The one thing that I love about Dom is that he cares about us on the court, but especially, off the court," she said.
"He always helps us. He would do anything he can for us. I think he's a good coach and a very good man."
Starodubtseva, by the way, will take advantage of the NCAA decision to grant another year of eligibility because of the pandemic and will play next season.
Hutchinson, who likely will return to England to pursue a pro career, agrees that Manilla is the reason ODU has experienced so much success.
"We are a very international team and Old Dominion is in many ways an international University," she said.
"All of the credit goes to Dom because he recruits so well."

Hutchinson and Pilkington were scheduled to graduate this weekend. Twice, in fact.
Both were to receive the undergraduate degrees they earned last year and the master's degrees they earned over the last two semesters.
But they will pick up their sheepskins later in order to compete in the NCAA tournament.
Both said they regret not being able to walk across the podium at S.B. Ballard Stadium and shake the hand of President John R. Broderick, with whom they have a close relationship.
"But playing in the NCAA tournament is a great reason to miss graduation," Pilkington said.
Arkansas (11-10) lost nine of its last 10 matches, but the Razorbacks played in the SEC, the best women's tennis conference in the country. All but one of the 14 SEC schools made the NCAA tournament field.
In spite of the difficult competition the Monarchs will face at UNC, Manilla said he likes being sent to Chapel Hill, where the Monarchs hope to win their first NCAA tournament match ever.
"We know the North Carolina team very well and I kind of like the idea that we know them and are familiar with their facility," he said.
"I know that we are going to go down there to compete. We've got a good chance to get both of these matches.
"We've got to get past Arkansas and that's a very good team with a great young coach. But I think that we are fired up ready to take on anybody."
Minium worked 39 years at The Virginian-Pilot before coming to ODU. Twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, he won 19 Virginia Press Association awards and 4 each from the Associated Press and Football Writers of America. Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @hbminium1 or email