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by Harry Minium

Minium: Men's and Women's Sun Belt Titles Add Luster to a Banner 2023-24 Season for ODU

ODU won conferences titles in women's soccer, field hockey and men's and women's tennis

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NORFOLK, Va. – Old Dominion marketing and fan engagement coordinators Ryan Parncutt and Lauren Wilkowske gathered the trophies from near and far. They found some in coaches’ offices and others storage in the Folkes-Stevens Tennis Center. 

They placed all of them on two tables in the L.R. Hill Sports Center, where the ODU men’s and women’s tennis teams were waiting Monday night to learn who they would play in the NCAA Tournament. 

Bruce Stewart whistled as he walked past the trophies.

“That, my friends, is a lot of hardware,” said ODU’s deputy athletic director and chief operating officer.

Ten trophies in all, won by the ODU women’s and men’s tennis teams since 2018, including seven in the Sun Belt Conference and three from Conference USA. 

And the 2024 men’s regular-season title trophy has yet to be delivered.

Both teams are headed for North Carolina State to take on South Carolina – the men Friday at 1 p.m. and the women Saturday at 11 a.m. For the men, it’s their second year in a row in the NCAA Tournament and the fifth time for the women.

The trophies, and this year’s performance by both teams, are evidence that ODU remains a national men’s and women’s tennis powerhouse, even in a rebuilding year.

The ODU men (20-7) are ranked 51stth nationally. The women (17-5) are 66th and have won 13 matches in a row. 

Of the 17 players on both teams, just four are seniors, including one senior on the women’s team. Five seniors played for the men last season and the women lost their top two players.

“Rebuilding,” Stewart added, “is a word not in our vocabulary.”

The conference titles were the third and fourth, respectively, won by ODU teams in what has been a banner 2023-24 athletic season. The women’s soccer team won the Sun Belt title, its third consecutive title, this fall on the same day the field hockey team won its first Big East championship.

That makes four championships out of 15 scholarship sports programs so far this season.

The ODU baseball team won’t be favored in the Sun Belt tournament but could make it five titles later this month. The Monarchs have beaten three Top 25 teams and have won eight of their last 11 games.

The ODU football team did not win a conference title, but the Monarchs went to a bowl game for the second time in three years.

“There’s been a lot to celebrate, a lot to savor in 2023-24,” Dr. Wood Selig, ODU’s director of athletics, said at a staff meeting Wednesday morning.

Women’s coach Dominic Manilla noted that at some schools, there is a rivalry between men’s and women’s teams. But not at ODU.

“We are definitely separate teams, separate programs,” he said. “But we have a very combined tennis culture here. The expectation is that you’re going to play in the NCAA Tournament and do well in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a very fantastic synergy that we have going on between these two programs.”

It helps that the two coaches name Dom – Manilla and men’s coach Dominik Mueller – like each other and get along. 

It also helps that ODU’s administration provides more support, including financial resources, than you’ll find at most mid-major programs.

“I can’t think of two better people to work for than Wood Selig and Bruce Stewart,” Manilla said.

“You can see the unity between the programs in so many ways. It starts with the uniforms,” Mueller added.

“They say ODU tennis, not ODU men’s tennis or ODU’s women’s tennis.

“We’re in the same facility so we see each other every day. I think both programs push each other, in a good way. You don’t always see that around the country. Not every tennis coach has a good relationship with the other teams because sometimes you feel like you’re competing for the same resources, for attention.

“It’s different here. Dom and I have a great relationship. The players cheer for each other. We try to make each other better.”

Men’s player Jakob Cadonau, a senior from Kleinostheim, Bavaria, in Germany, says the teams actively root for each other.

“Both teams watch each other’s games,” he said. “We support each other.

“When they had away matches, we would watch them play on video. And they would watch us.

“So, it’s a pretty close relationship.”

Both programs also benefit from the Folkes-Stevens Tennis Center, which is one of the finest college tennis facilities in the country. 

The 74,000-square foot facility has eight indoor courts, 12 outdoor courts, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, players’ lounges and an upstairs mezzanine. It has become the tennis center of Hampton Roads, hosting numerous tournaments.

“It is an amazing facility,” said Codie van Schalkwyk, the men’s junior from Namibia.

Most college tennis programs recruit widely internationally and so does ODU. Of the 17 players on both teams, 13 are international players.

Recruiting internationally often comes down to contacts and culture. Five of the seven women’s players speak Russian, although only three come from Russia. Associate head coach Yana Sokolenko is from Belarus and is fluent in Russian.

Manilla said she is largely responsible for ODU’s recruiting success in Eastern Europe.

Mueller is from Germany and has three German speakers on his roster – Cadonau and freshman Aryan Saleh from Germany and sophomore Yanis Moundir from Switzerland.

Assistant coach Othmane Lalami is from Morocco and speaks French, the native language for Maxime Mareschal-Hay (from Quebec) and Cosme Rolland de Ravel (from France). 

Lalami also speaks German.

Saleh said coming to America at age 18 was a major adjustment and not just because of language differences. Adjusting to a new culture was also a challenge.

“It helped me to know that I had teammates and coaches who speak my language,” said Saleh, whose English is excellent. “Once I got here, I really liked the school and the culture we have here.

“This is a great place to play tennis and go to college.”

Both programs also have one more thing in common – the imprint left by Darryl Cummings.

An ODU graduate, Cummings coached both the men’s and women’s teams. He was 553-242 in 20 years with the women, including 17 in which he also coached the men.

His dream was for ODU to have an indoor tennis center. For most of his 20 years at ODU he lobbied for a new building and raised money.

A banner now hangs over the Folkes-Stevens indoor courts that reads: “The House that Darryl Built.”

Darryl’s son, Clark Cummings, is an assistant for Manilla.

The women clinched the Sun Belt title in Rome, Georgia on Sunday, the day after what would have been Cummings’ 60th birthday. He succumbed in early December to a heart attack at just 59 years old.

Manilla, who played for Cummings at ODU, choked up when he was asked about winning the Sun Belt title on the weekend on his former coach and good friend would have turned 60.

“In many ways, our success, the championships we’re winning, continues the legacy that Darryl helped build here,” Manilla said.

A legacy that now includes two nationally prominent programs that seem to be just getting better and better.  

Minium is ODU's Senior Executive Writer for Athletics. Contact him at or follow him  on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

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