BYU-Hawaii looking for chance to avenge missed chances
SURPRISE, Ariz. — It’s revenge time for BYU-Hawaii. Not in a negative way, but to quiet both inner and shared frustrations on the court.
As the Seasiders prepared for Wednesday’s Round of 16 match against Northeastern State, their presence in the 2013 NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship offered a chance to banish several ghosts.
The biggest is last year’s loss to reigning champion Armstrong Atlantic in the national championship match. The Pirates are on BYU-Hawaii’s side of the bracket this year, but a title wouldn’t be on the line should they meet at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in suburban Phoenix. It would be in a semifinal match on Friday.
The BYU-Hawaii women aren’t thinking that far ahead.
“Just match-by-match,” senior Annie Hwang, who plays No. 1 singles, said. “Just think about first round and after we win the first round, think about the next round.”
Hwang is thinking individually, too, but only in the back of her mind. The nation’s No. 2 singles player, per the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, Hwang had lost one match in her college career prior to Wednesday’s Round of 16 action in Arizona. The player that beat her, current No. 1 singles player Paola Cigui of Columbus State , lurked on the opposite side of the women’s bracket prior to Wednesday’s Round of 16, and the respect factor between the two teams appears high.
Still, no one who plays at a high level likes to lose.
“It’s been an opportunity to deal with some different types of challenge than what we’re used to having,” said BYU Hawaii head coach Dave Porter of the season’s events, “and I feel pretty good about where we are right now mentally and physically as a team.”
The Seasiders, a perennial power in Division II women’s tennis, have held serve in 2012-13. Their most recent NCAA title came in 2007, the last year of a dominating run that began in 1999 and included seven NCAA titles. BYU also finished as the runner-up to Armstrong Atlantic in 2010, so, a return to the top spot feels a bit overdue.
“It’s been an interesting year,” said Porter, the BYU women’s coach since 1992. “We lost our number three and four players from last year and basically didn’t replace them.”
Instead, BYU Hawaii got leaner and stronger. Anchored by Hwang, of Tainan City, Taiwan, and fellow senior Sherry Liu, of Tianjin, China, the team pushed its younger members to excel at higher singles slots this season, while continuing their stellar play from a year ago. Liu, ranked sixth in Division II singles, forms the nation’s top-ranked Division II women’s doubles team with Hwang.
“These two — they’re both already off to graduate school — have pretty much decided, ‘we should’ve won last year and didn’t win and so we’re going to win this year,’” Porter said of his top two players. “Whether we do or not, you just don’t know anything. But you like the attitude that says we’re here to play. If you can beat us, beat us, but you’re going to have to beat us.”
Hwang’s loss to Cigui earlier this season — on March 26, a cold, windy day at Columbus State’s home courts in southwestern Georgia — was somewhat avenged by BYU Hawaii’s ultimate 5-4 team victory.
“That really is the only match that she’s had that’s even been close in three years,” Porter said. “Whether we play them again, she wins or she doesn’t or she loses to someone else, it doesn’t matter. It’s just that she loves to compete and she wants the team to do well and if some of that other stuff comes along the way, that’s better.”
Then there is the in-state rival factor. The only blemish on BYU Hawaii’s 25-1 record entering Wednesday’s Round of 16, is 5-4 loss to then fifth-ranked Hawaii Pacific on Feb. 27. BYU Hawaii was ranked second at the time. The Seasiders beat Hawaii Pacific 5-0 in the Pacific West Conference tournament final several weeks ago, and Hawaii Pacific enters the Round of 16 ranked fourth nationally, while also lurking on the opposite side of the women’s NCAA bracket from BYU-Hawaii.
“Last year was actually my first year playing college tennis and I feel more used to it this year,” said Liu, who’s finishing her final undergraduate classes. “I feel like I’m enjoying our group more and we have more of a great attitude than last year. So I feel like we have more of a chance than last year.”
Additional obstacles this season have included illnesses, a long southeast U.S. road trip and the shorter roster. But the power duo of Hwang and Liu has shouldered responsibility and continuity during occasional rough patches.
“They’ve stayed positive and they’ve helped me support and coach the other girls to give them some confidence,” Porter said. “And they hope they’ll play well enough and that the other girls will play well enough.”
“Because this is both of our last years, we play for Coach Porter,” Liu said. “So we want our best, for sure. We’ll give everything we have.”