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Cullen student, teammate win National Wheelchair Tennis Championship
Bryan Luhn
UH Wheelchair Tennis Team (L to R): Nicholas Tijerina, Head Coach Gabriel Gutierrez, Jose Arriaga.
UH Wheelchair Tennis Team (L to R): Nicholas Tijerina, Head Coach Gabriel Gutierrez, Jose Arriaga.

The University of Houston was crowned national champions at the 2024 ITA National Wheelchair Tennis Championships, the premier competition in all of collegiate wheelchair tennis.

In a remarkable display of skill, determination and teamwork, the No. 3 Cougars defeated No. 1 San Diego State in a three-hour match at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, Florida, to win the school’s first wheelchair tennis national title.

UH’s team of Jose Arriaga and Nicholas Tijerina won the doubles match 8-6 and Arriaga clinched the title with a 6-2, 5-7, 10-6 victory in the first singles match. Tijerina earned his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cullen in 2023, and he is currently pursuing his M.S. in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering with a concentration in Control Systems and Dynamics.

“We were kind of the plucky underdogs, and there were a lot of institutions ranked ahead of us early in the season,” said Michael Cottingham, associate professor of health and human performance and director of Adaptive Athletics at UH. “But Nick and Jose had a really great run and it’s exciting for us to have that first national championship.”

Head Coach Gabriel Gutierrez, a UH alumnus whose leadership Cottingham says was instrumental in the team’s success, won ITA Wheelchair Coach of the Year.

During the season, UH competes against other universities, but most of its matches are played in USTA and ITF tournaments against non-college athletes, so there are opportunities for both students and non-students with disabilities to compete. In the national championships, teams were allowed one student and one non-student athlete. For UH, Tijerina was the student player while Arriaga, a Houstonian who has been training with the UH program for several years, was the non-student player.

“This championship not only solidifies our position as elite competitors, but it shows prospective student-athletes that they can get top-notch tennis training along with great academics and an incredible college experience,” Cottingham said. “We want to bring in strong students who represent UH well and go on to have successful careers after tennis.”

Cottingham hopes the victory propels the UH program to new heights. Soon there will be a fully funded scholarship for one student-athlete through the One Step Closer Foundation. And this summer, UH will host the ITF Junior Camp of the Americas, a showcase for the best 11–18-year-old wheelchair tennis players in the world.

“Our goal is to be a destination program, and with the resources we’re putting in place, I’m excited for the future,” Cottingham said.

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