FORT MYERS, Fla. – With the 2014 regular season beginning six weeks from Saturday, the FGCU men’s tennis team takes a look back at the historic career of once No. 6-ranked former Eagle Richard Stempnowski.
The Munich, Germany native played from 2002-05 en route to becoming the most prolific player in FGCU history. Over his three-year career, Stempnowski totaled a program-best 67 wins, landing him ITA All-American honors in 2004 and 2005.
The 2005 FGCU Male Student-Athlete of the Year led the Eagles through their first run in the NCAA Division-II Championship Tournament, ending with a trip to the round of 32 and a ninth-place national ranking in April 2005.
“If you look back on our history, it’s clear Richard is one of the toughest competitors to ever play at FGCU,” former head coach J. Webb Horton said. “Playing in the No. 1 singles slot and getting results like that is incredible. What he did on the court and how he represented FGCU off the court really took our program to the next level.”
Transferring as a sophomore from Edison Community College, Stempnowski made his debut as an Eagle in the fall of 2002. Making an impact from the beginning, Stempnowski ended his inaugural season compiling a 10-5 singles record and a No. 34 national ITA rank. In April 2003 the Green and Blue ended the season sitting at 14-3 and were listed 20th in the NCAA Division-II final rankings.
Returning for his junior year, Stempnowski’s fall-tournament campaign was highlighted by his win of the ITA Small School Southeast Regional Championships, earning him a trip to the ITA Small School Championships in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he finished fourth. He ended the season ranked 15th in the nation, was named the NCAA D-II Player to Watch and earned the Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership and Sportsmanship as well as All-American honors.
“Richard’s run at the 2003 ITA fall regionals is a feat that will never be duplicated,” Horton said. “He beat the No. 1 seed Carlos Custodio 6-1, 1-6, 6-1, in the semifinals and about an hour later beat Thomas Hipp, who was ranked in the top-5 nationally, in another three-set match. Stempnowski’s win advanced him to Nationals in Corpus Christi and the way he played there and how he represented FGCU allowed us to host the championship tournament the following year.”
Stempnowski’s final season in Green and Blue extended the success he saw in his first two. Much like the year prior, he spent the fall winning ITA Regionals and placed sixth at Small School National, hosted by FGCU. In the spring, he continued play in the No. 1 singles slot, racking up a 25-3 record leading to his national ranking of sixth.
The Eagles finished their 2005 campaign with a 19-5 overall record, which included a trip to the NCAA D-II Championship Tournament, in just their first year of post-season eligibility. The team sailed to its first-ever win in NCAA Tournament play with a 5-1 victory over Eckerd College in the opening round before falling to top-seeded Barry, 5-3, in the South Region Finals.
“What an amazing alumni to have in our record books,” current FGCU head coach CJ Weber said. “This program has an incredible history to it, and I couldn't be more humbled to have players like Stempe guiding our path today. He's been to all of our alumni events, which provides an incredible amount of motivation to the current players. For them to have guys like Stempe come back to the courts, compete against them and show them the pride they have for their alma mater. Stempe has a lot to be proud of, as he is certainly the most decorated player in FGCU history, and I can't thank him enough for his current support of the program!”
Stempnowski has continued his career as a member of Tennis Club Blutenburg in Munich. His most recent win came this past October at the 62nd annual Schliersee Sixtus tournament as part of the German Masters Series. To take home to top prize Stempnowski defeated Frederic Arlt in the finals 7-6, 6-3.
“Stempe is someone I really look up to,” junior Jordi Vives said. “The successful legacy set by those who have played the No. 1 singles slot before me is something I aim to live up to and hope I can one day leave my own mark. I’ve gotten to play against Stempe before and it’s really nice to see how this program can continue to impact you for the better once your college career is done.”
The Eagles serve into the beginning of their dual-match season as they travel to Tallahassee, facing Florida State on Saturday, Jan. 18.