By BAILEY TURNER
The University of Iowa men’s tennis program landed Oliver Okonkwo out of Berkshire, England. The youngster was a coveted recruit on the trail and Mellecker Family head men’s tennis coach Ross Wilson knew that.
“Oliver had the three things we look for in recruits when I saw him play in England,” Wilson said. “He was a great student and has the highest academic scholarship an international student can be offered at Iowa. He was athletic with a lot of upside, a great competitor, and comes from a great family.”
On top of all the traits Wilson was looking for, the freshman from Furze Platt could swing the racket. Okonkwo earned a top-20 ranking in UK U16 circuit and was the runner-up at the 2016 and 2017 British National Championship in doubles.
But why Iowa?
“One thing that stood out to me were the facilities,” said Okonkwo. “I had never seen such a prestigious facility before, so it put in perspective how much people cared about the program to put that much money into it. I decided to come here because Ross (Wilson) cared a lot about the program and he took a real interest in developing my tennis.”
Okonkwo stepped on the court for the first time this past October. The freshman enters Monday’s match at Arizona with a 19-8 record in singles, winning seven out of his last eight matches. His play with sophomore Will Davies is what has stood out. Davies and Okonkwo have a team-best 9-2 record playing on court two for the Hawkeyes.
“I have an unbelievable amount of fun playing with Will (Davies) because not only is he a good friend, but he’s also one of the people on the team that I look up to most”, Okonkwo said. “One thing we’ve worked on is playing to each other’s strengths and making sure we’re giving a lot of energy to our team.”
The tandem on court two has been holding it down in singles and doubles, enabling Iowa to get off to its hot start, the best in the Wilson era. On the heels of one of its most successful seasons in program history, this group of Hawkeyes is ready to take the next step.
“We have an exciting future as our level is increasing and we are becoming a stronger force as a team,” said Okonkwo. “Our goal is to be ranked in the top-40 and make the NCAA Tournament.”
Okonkwo has held his own as a rookie, something that is becoming a trend for Hawkeyes when they step on campus under Wilson. These student-athletes are highly-touted and are asked to step into upperclassmen roles in the lineup.
“Oliver has the potential to be one of the best players in the nation by the time he is finished at Iowa,” said Wilson. “I can’t say he has exceeded expectations, because we have only played 10 matches this season. However, nobody has a higher expectation of themselves than Oliver.”
Okonkwo and the Hawkeyes challenge 29th-ranked Arizona today at 4 p.m. (CT) in Tucson, Arizona.