April 17, 2012
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WEST POINT, N.Y. - Men's tennis player Rommel Verano was named the Army Athletic Association Athlete of the Week on Monday after an inspiring performance in Saturday's "Star Match" at Navy. The Black Knights fell to the Midshipmen 4-3, but Verano epitomized the true meaning of a West Point cadet-athlete in the process.
Following a doubles win alongside junior Alex Holland, Verano battled through debilitating cramps at No. 5 singles and was barely able to hold his racket. He was forced to serve underhand on a number of occasions. With the Star Match on the line, Verano refused to quit despite the coaching staff's concern.
Army assistant coach Randy Rowley approached the struggling sophomore about retiring after the first set, but Verano refused. Verano's teammate, junior Alex Holland, was on the next court and echoed the sentiment to Rowley saying, "This is what we do."
The sophomore lost the first set to Navy's Nicholas Gutsche 7-6 (7-3), before charging on to win the second set 6-3 to tie the match.
In the third and decisive set, with the team score tied at 3-3 and everyone looking on, Gutsche defeated a fatigued Verano, 6-2. Despite the loss, praise and admiration greeted the Black Knight as he walked off the court.
"We stood in awe, watching Rommel," said former West Point Superintendent Ret. Lt. Gen. Dan Christman who was in attendance. "Rarely have I seen a more courageous performance by an Army athlete.
"We all flocked down to his court at No. 5 singles to watch once we understood what was going on," continued Christman. "He was cramping up so badly, the trainer had seen him two or three times, and he winds up winning the second set. He gave his all in that third set. He hung in there every way he could and made us all unbelievably proud."
"In a week where an Army baseball pitcher came within two outs of the school's first perfect game, a lacrosse player scored five goals in a huge win against our service academy rival, and a softball player was a perfect 8-for-8 from the plate, we are choosing this young man as our Athlete of the Week," said Army Director of Athletics Book Corrigan. "Rommel exemplifies everything that is good about our cadet-athletes. His courage, determination and desire to support his teammates are what West Point is all about."
The head coaches at Saturday's match echoed the sentiments. "Rommel is a true warrior for West Point and a true warrior for our tennis program. We're proud of the guy," said Army's head coach Jim Poling.
"Rommel showed a lot of character out there to be cramping as much as he was and staying in the match," said Navy's John Officer. "At one point they were talking about ending his match, but he just kept battling. He did a fantastic job out there and anyone who watched his match has to have a lot of respect for him."
The AAA recognition is the first of Verano's career and first by a tennis player this academic year. Verano and the Black Knights (13-11, 4-2 Patriot League) will return to the courts on Saturday when they host Boston University at noon.