May 15, 2010

By Jarrod Rudolph
Special to NCAA.com

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. -
Armstrong Atlantic won it’s third consecutive NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship Saturday with a 5-1 victory over BYU-Hawaii. The championship was Armstrong Atlantic’s sixth women's tennis title in school history.

“We have some great personalities on our team,” Armstrong Atlantic coach Simon Earnshaw said. “I know the three seniors were here on this same court four years ago and lost to BYU-Hawaii. It’s not that we’ve had success every year, but I think from that moment four years ago we’ve understood what it takes for us to win. Fortunately we’ve been able to repeat that each and every year.”

The Pirates (33-0) haven’t rested on simply learning from the pain of their loss to BYU-Hawaii (32-1) in the 2006 national championship game. Earnshaw has made sure that they learn and grow from each championship game and the experiences along the way.

“We’ve been able to improve and really develop the players we’ve had,” he said. “You can’t rely only on recruiting. You have to develop them over their careers and hope that they can get just a little better and then it provides us with the momentum and togetherness that has been enough for us to perform at this level.”

Armstrong Atlantic dominated the match, winning two doubles and three singles matches before the remaining three singles matches were left unfinished. Pirates Kathleen Henry, Gabriella Kovacs and Tina Ronel won in straight sets. Jenny Chin, the senior women’s player of the year from BYU-Hawaii, was tied in her singles match when it was called because Armstrong Atlantic had clinched.

“BYU is always going to be a great opponent. Realistically, as it stands, that s the top program is Division II history,” Earnshaw said. “I’ve only beaten BYU three times in my career. I think in recent years with this group we have we’ve been able to raise our level to the point of challenging them and we’ve been fortunate to come through.”

A big part of Armstrong’s success has been the growth of seniors, particularly Martina Beckmann. During her four years with the program, Beckmann has grown into a very capable player in leader of the team. She teamed with Alida Muller-Wehlau to beat Yuan Jia and Elwen Li, 8-5, in doubles on Saturday.

“I think Martina is the one that has demonstrated the most growth,” Earnshaw said. “Martina came here lacking in self confidence her freshman year. She didn’t play singles for us and at best was a bit-part doubles player. We were able to instill in her a level of belief and get that self confidence level up. Now she believes she can perform on this level. She shows everything that we’re about.”

Earnshaw credits his ability to raise the confidence of players like Beckmann by getting everyone to buy into the team-first concept of the program. BYU-Hawaii arguably had the more talented player in Chin, but the Pirates had a championship determination that made up for any individual advantages BYU-Hawaii may have enjoyed.

“I don’t think we have the best player, whatever best means,” Earnshaw said. “We certainly have the hungriest and most determined players. I feel like that’s the most important thing.