This round goes to the Pirates
Armstrong Atlantic victorious in emotional battle with Barry
SURPRISE, Ariz. — Armstrong Atlantic junior Barbora Krtickova walked away from the court where a No. 4 singles match had ended only seconds before, to the court where a No. 5 singles match still raged.
“It’s over,” she announced, waving her arms.
Fellow Armstrong junior Olga Kalodzitsa didn’t quite drop her racquet at the news, but she went from attack mode in No. 5 singles to screaming delightedly with her teammates, celebrating a hard-won 5-3 victory against Barry.
Thursday’s quarterfinal between the No. 1-ranked Barry Buccaneers and the No. 2 Armstrong Pirates in the 2013 NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship delivered expected drama. From the clincher in one of two final singles matches, to Kalodzitsa’s blistered fingers pockmarked by black athletic tape, it was championship-level suspense. And, it only got better as doubles play yielded to the six singles matches.
One by one, three other quarterfinals ended at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in suburban Phoenix. But the Armstrong- Barry battle yawned into late afternoon, topping four hours and emptying courtside coolers and water bottles.
“They were fighting like crazy,” Armstrong sophomore Clara Perez said of the Buccaneers. “They wanted to beat us, of course. And it was really long matches, but I think we were just prepared mentally to win this match [Thursday].”
The Pirates were prepared because Barry is the only team that has beaten them in 2013. The 5-4 loss occurred on March 22 in Miami, Fla., and was exacerbated by Barry leap-frogging Armstrong in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.
Now, both teams sport 27-1 records, with one advancing and one headed home.
Much happens between these two programs, nearly always with national implications. The defending national champion Pirates have won four of the last five Division II women’s titles (2008-10 and ’12). The one they didn’t win during that span, in 2011, belongs to Barry.
Thursday’s victory against Barry also might be a harbinger. In 2009, Armstrong lost a regular-season match to Lynn by the same score as this season’s loss to Barry — 5-4. Armstrong saw Lynn again, later, in the NCAA championship match, and won 5-2.
“I actually think the biggest difference in the match was discipline,” Armstrong head coach Simon Earnshaw said of Thursday’s victory. “I felt like we were able to keep our composure better than Barry.”
Part of the composure-keeping was winning the decisive No. 3 doubles match, which gave Armstrong a 2-1 lead heading to singles play. The Pirates jumped ahead 3-1 with a win at No. 1 singles, but lost at No. 3 singles.
With the score 3-2 in Armstrong’s favor, Perez won her No. 2 singles match to pull the Pirates within one point of clinching the overall match.
“Clara may be one of the youngest players on the team, but she’s the team captain,” Earnshaw said. “She played six for us last year. She’s come all the way up to No. 2 this year and that’s been a massive help for us. And even she said that she felt like she could win the match the whole time.”
Barry answered with a victory at No. 6 singles, leaving the deciding point up to Armstrong’s Marlen Hacke, who had split sets with Barry’s Karina Goia at No. 4 singles. Hacke battled back multiple times in the third set to win 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.
The fact that Kalodzitsa had rebounded from split sets on an adjoining court, and was building a 3-0, third-set lead at No. 5 singles when Hacke won, probably provided an extra boost, per Earnshaw.
He was particularly pleased for Hacke, whose father passed away in January.
“I’m sure she was thinking about it in those moments,” he said. “And it’s tough for her. She’s got a problem with playing in the big matches and playing the big points. And that was really good to see her come through that.
“It’s not ironic that it comes down to her, but sometimes things work one way for a reason. I think just [Thursday] was going to be her day.”
Next up for the Pirates is No. 4 Hawaii-Pacific. Friday’s other semifinal features No. 5 Abilene Christian and No. 3 BYU Hawaii.
“Obviously this is a big win, but we just can not relax now, because we are still in the tournament,” Perez said. “This was the semifinals. Hawaii Pacific, we beat them in the season but we still have to keep working hard because they’re gonna obviously want to beat us tomorrow. This is a big win. We just can’t celebrate it [Thursday]. Tonight, let’s think about tomorrow.”