Santiago Perez earns XULA’s first national No. 1 in ITA NAIA men’s singles rankings

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NEW ORLEANS — Santiago Perez has earned Xavier University of Louisiana’s first-ever national No. 1 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association NAIA men’s singles rankings sponsored by Tennis Point.

The ITA announced Wednesday the rankings, the first since the preseason list Dec. 2, when Perez was 17th.

“I’m very happy, and this means a lot to me,” said Perez, a senior from Pereira, Colombia, and a three-year NAIA All-American. “One of my goals in my college career has finally happened. This ranking motivates me to keep improving and to work harder to achieve more.”

Two come-from-behind February road victories helped Perez climb:

• 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 against Georgia Gwinnett’s Matthias Haim — a first-team NAIA All-American and the most outstanding player of NAIA nationals in 2021 — on the final day of Grizzly Invitational #2.
• 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11) against William Carey’s Daniil Klimov, No. 3 on the preseason list. That victory clinched XULA’s 4-1 dual-match triumph against the Crusaders.

“Santi has put in the work to be able to compete against anyone in the nation in all divisions,” 19th-year XULA head coach Alan Green said. “Fortunately, we play a lot of high-ranked teams who have high-ranked players, and Santi defeated almost all of them. He’s the hardest worker I’ve had here, and that hard work is paying off for him.”

Teammate Juan Ramirez is No. 35 nationally in singles, and the doubles team of Perez and Ramirez is ranked second. That matches the Gold Rush’s highest-ever national doubles ranking; Antoine Richard and Moses Micheal were No. 2 in the final rankings of the 2016-17 season.

Perez and Ramirez trail only Valentino Caratini and Agustin Tamagnone of Georgia Gwinnett in doubles — but Perez and Ramirez led that team 5-4 in February when Georgia Gwinnett clinched the doubles point.

“Coach Green deserves many thanks for everything he does for us on and off the court,” Perez said, “and I thank my teammates for the constant support and trust.”

For the first time in eons, XULA had no women ranked nationally or regionally.

Next for XULA’s men and women will be 3 p.m. Friday home duals against Dillard — the matches were moved to XULA Tennis Center because Dillard’s home facility is not ready for collegiate competition — and 10 a.m. Saturday duals at West Florida, whose men are ranked 17th and women are unranked in NCAA Division II. Missouri State of NCAA Division I, citing illness, bowed out of a recently arranged 9 a.m. Friday women’s match against the Gold Nuggets at XULA.

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