CHARLESTON, S.C. — After a nine-year absence, top-seeded College of Charleston will go dancing again as the Cougars claimed their first Southern Conference championship title since 2003 with a 4-0 shutout of second-seeded Samford in the finals of the SoCon Championships held on Monday afternoon at the CofC Tennis Center at Patriots Point.
The Cougars (18-4) last earned the league’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid with a 4-1 victory against former SoCon member East Tennessee State at The Citadel’s Earle Tennis Center in 2003. The win avenged a 4-0 loss to the Bulldogs (17-5) in last year’s tournament finals in Chattanooga, Tenn.
It marked CofC’s second SoCon Tournament title in five all-time appearances in the championship match.
The Cougars quickly built a 1-0 lead as Stephen Hardy and Alon Faiman got past Samford’s Fernando Costa and Carson Kadi 8-5 at No. 3 doubles and duo of Mickael Trintignac and Kyle Parker sealed the doubles point with an 8-5 win against Zac Dunkle and Alexander Sajonz at No. 1.
In singles play, Billy Kenny, who had only played in doubles matches towards the end of the regular season, picked up his first singles win of the year with a 6-3, 6-1 decision against Ryan Shidler at the No. 6 line.
Tom Delme, who was honored as SoCon Tournament MVP, captured his third consecutive match of the tournament behind a valiant effort at No. 2 singles.
“It is a culmination of four years of hard work,” Delme said on the first SoCon Tournament title of his career and being named MVP. “We lost in the finals last year and to come back with the same team — it means a lot to the program to win this. Every match I played this season was for the team. Nothing was for me and that’s what I learned here during my time at CofC — team work and team spirit. That is the reason why we won. Everyone from 1-to-6 singles and 1-to-3 doubles contributed. Chris [Toussaint] was behind me cheering me on. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.”
After being down 5-2 in the second set to Carson Kadi, Delme won nine of the next 10 games to cruise to a 7-0 second-set tiebreaker and 6-1 third set to put CofC up 3-0 on the scoreboard.
“I saw all of the guys fighting and I didn’t want to let the team down,” Delme said. “I just fought as hard as I could. I had some good momentum going. I was able to stay in the match and then I came back in the tiebreaker and the momentum changed at that point. Everyone brought a lot of intensity to finish the match.”
The Cougars now had two of the four remaining singles matches closing in on the final point with Faiman and Trintignac up 5-2 and 5-4 on the No. 5 and No. 1 singles courts respectively. Both held the advantage in their final games, but it was Faiman who would clinch it with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 victory against Sajonz.
“Being able to play in front of all of our family and friends and fans really paid off,” 2012 SoCon Coach of the Year Jay Bruner said, who is in his fifth year and led his first CofC squad to the NCAA tournament. “We had a bunch of long matches against a really good Samford team. The guys really found some extra spirit to get through the match. It definitely paid off being able to play at home for the tournament.
“It means a lot for our program to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. It’s been a long break, especially for our seniors and the whole team. They have put in a lot of hard work the last three seasons and it has been a goal for our seniors Tom [Delme], Guga [Trintignac] and Chris [Toussaint] and this is just an awesome win and accomplishment to seal their career and season.”