Sophomore Aaron Skinner walked onto the tennis court at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association National Championships in Mobile, Alabama last weekend and came off the ITA Small College National Singles Champion. He edged North Carolina Wesleyan’s Robert Kjellberg in the final 1-6, 7-6, 7-6 (7-5) to capture the title.
Skinner is the first ITA Singles Champion that Trinity has boasted since 1997 when Jamie Broach took the title. It is the second ITA National Championship title under head coach Russell McMindes. Skinner did not respond to interview requests.
“Aaron winning this event was huge as it has the current top eight players in the country,” McMindes said. “He went into the event as a relative unknown and only a sophomore, so for him to go through the tournament, beating the number one seed and the fourth seed along the way, was big. We hadn’t produced a singles champion at this event since 1997. Now this has put both himself and Trinity back on everyone’s radar for the spring.”
Skinner took a while to get warmed up as Kjellberg came out strong, stealing the first set and almost snatching the second and the match. Skinner broke the serve in the second set as Kjellberg served 6-5, and then a deciding set was forced.
“The atmosphere for the championship match was phenomenal,” McMindes said. “It started a bit flat just because his opponent came out on fire – playing amazing. But in the second set, Aaron started playing better and the match intensified. He saved the match in the second by breaking serve with his opponent serving for it.”
The final set was another close one, with the two dueling it out. Skinner was able to finally close it out after Kjellberg stayed alive for two match points.
“By the third set, the level of play was extremely high,” McMindes said. “At this point, there were quite a few people watching and the players didn’t disappoint. They played their best tennis in that last set and each of them stepped up to the occasion when needed. It ultimately finished with a very tense tie-breaker in the third that Aaron was able to pull out. It was really something special.”
Skinner won a total of four matches at the tournament beginning on Wednesday. He even defeated the top seed from Washington University in St. Louis to advance to the semifinals against the fourth seed from Johns Hopkins University. He won that match with solid 6-3, 6-1 wins to get to the final.
“Skinner is a tough player to play because he is so solid from the baseline,” said teammate and sophomore Jordan Mayer. “He is never on ‘true’ defense and is at worst, neutral in a point. He never gives away free points so the opponent realizes that he has to hit bigger or better shots in order to win the point. In the process in trying to hit bigger, opponents start missing shots because they realize Skinner never will. He is also tough because he controls the tempo of the match very well.”
It wasn’t just Skinner’s exceptional performance at the tournament that won the title, it was his hard work throughout the off and regular season as well as his natural skills that ultimately got him there.
“His talent is off the charts,” McMindes said. “He was injured most of last year, so his primary objective over the summer was to get healthy and get in better shape. He did both and the reward is evident. What makes him special is he never appears rattled. He’s very calm, and I believe that’s what helps him handle the stresses of high level matches and events like nationals so well. The moment never appears too big.”
Though Skinner takes the title as an individual, he had much help along the way from his coaches and teammates.
“This fall season is an “individual” season, but we still believe it’s a team effort,” McMindes said. “The two greatest examples were at the regional and then at nationals. At regionals, the no. 1 seed had to play four Trinity players (three prior to Aaron in the final). Each player helped us develop a better game plan for Aaron to execute. Then at nationals, Aaron’s doubles partner (Jordan Mayer), was an avid supporter during all of Aaron’s matches. Then knowing he had the support of his teammates back home was inspiring; it was great.”
Skinner’s success will resonate with the team and helps them to prepare for their spring season. His efforts and hard work paid off and are another example of Trinity’s athletic success.
“Now on the agenda is taking this momentum through the off-season and using it to help us win the team Championship in the spring,” Mayer said.