NEW ORLEANS - Athletes from HBCUs or NAIA schools seldom receive the highest recognition on All-Louisiana teams. But Xavier University of Louisiana's Loic Didavi did late Sunday when he was selected the men's tennis player of the year for the 2011-12 season.
That makes the Didavi the first HBCU athlete to be named Louisiana Player of the Year or its equivalent since Grambling quarterback Bruce Eugene was football offensive player of the year in 2005. Didavi is the first NAIA athlete to reach the top since SUNO's Julius Achon shared the men's track outstanding performer award in 1995.
"Wow! This is a great honor for Loic and Xavier," XU coach Alan Green said. "I've always wanted a program equipped with players that can compete with all the big schools in Louisiana. Loic has put in the work to earn everything he achieved this year. He has really taken our team to another level of play, and I'm grateful for him doing so."
Didavi, in his first season at Xavier after transferring from longtime NAIA power Auburn Montgomery, also was voted Newcomer of the Year. His doubles teammate, Zach Taylor, also made the first team. It's the first time that the Gold Rush have two first-team All-Louisiana tennis players. And Green - who led the XU men to a school-record 18 victories, Xavier's first national tournament quarterfinal berth in any sport since 1973, a school-record seventh straight conference/group championship and a No. 7 ranking in the postseason NAIA coaches poll - was chosen Louisiana Coach of the Year for the second straight season and the third time in four years.
A Louisiana Sports Writers Association panel selected the All-Louisiana team.
Didavi, a junior from Cotonou, Benin, was 25-6 in singles and 27-8 doubles and earned top-10 rankings in singles and doubles from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. He was ITA/NAIA South Regional champion in singles and doubles (with Taylor) in October and was NAIA Player of the Week for April 2-8.
Didavi denied LSU senior Neal Skupski a third consecutive Louisiana Player of the Year award and the Tigers their sixth in a row.
Taylor, a senior from Monroe, La., and a graduate of St. Frederick High School and Ventura College, was 19-6 in singles and 25-7 in doubles. He was a three-time Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Week and set a GCAC career record with six weekly awards.
"Zach has also been a big part of bringing our program to top-10 status," Green said. "He is one of the craftiest players I've ever had, and he can beat just about anyone in the country on any given day. He is a small guy, but he has the ability to hit every shot in the book. He also is an extremely smart player and a tough competitor, which gives him the opportunity to win all his matches. Zach has come in and embraced our team, our university and the entire atmosphere of playing college tennis. He is a great team guy, and he always comes through for his teammates."
Green, a New Orleans native with bachelor's and master's degrees from Xavier, led the Gold Rush (18-8) to a fourth consecutive berth in the NAIA National Championship, His team was top-10 in all nine polls this season - 11 straight dating to 2011 - and 10-5 vs. ranked NAIA teams, including road victories on consecutive days vs. top-10s Point Loma Nazarene and Westmont. The Gold Rush beat three NCAA Division I opponents and won nine straight, six against ranked NAIA teams, for the program's longest streak since the start of the 2001-02 season. For the fourth straight year, all the Gold Rush losses were to ranked NAIA opponents or DIs.
2011-12 All-Louisiana Men's Tennis
Olivier Borsos, junior, LSU
Loic Didavi, junior, Xavier
Carlin Murray, senior, Louisiana-Lafayette
Chris Simpson, freshman, LSU
Neal Skupski, senior, LSU
Zach Taylor, senior, Xavier
Ricardo Campos, junior, New Orleans
Rick DeGroot, sophomore, Louisiana-Lafayette
Dmitry Kozionov, junior, Nicholls State
Yanick Mandl, senior, Louisiana-Lafayette
Idan Mark, junior, Tulane
Rodrigo Rappaccioli, junior, Tulane
Player of the Year: Loic Didavi, Xavier
Newcomer of the Year: Loic Didavi, Xavier
Freshman of the Year: Chris Simpson, LSU
Coach of the Year: Alan Green, Xavier