Armstrong Atlantic wins record eighth national championship
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- After watching their competitive brethren fall in heart-breaking fashion hours before, Armstrong Atlantic women’s team took care of business in Saturday’s 2013 NCAA Division II Tennis Championship.
The Lady Pirates beat No. 3 BYU Hawaii 5-2 at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in suburban Phoenix, earning their a consecutive title and their sixth in nine years. It also is Armstrong’s eighth overall title, best among women’s teams.
Saturday’s title bout replicated both the participants and score from the 2012 final, when Armstrong beat Hawaii 5-2 in Louisville, Ky. The two teams hadn’t played since the Lady Pirates’ victory a year ago, but after watching his No. 2-ranked men’s team lose 5-4 to top-ranked Barry earlier in the day, head coach Simon Earnshaw was pleased to see the women prevail.
“We beat the No. 1, 3 and 4 teams in the nation in back-to-back-to-back days, but we got a lot of heart and just like the men, we kept fighting,” Earnshaw said. “And we were able to turn some big, big matches around.”
As it did in Thursday’s quarterfinal against No. 1 Barry, the match-clinching victory came down to junior Marlen Hacke at No. 4 singles, whose 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 score against BYU Hawaii’s Marietta Tuionetoa sealed the title.
Hacke said she was, “just playing. We knew that the first big step was Barry on Thursday in the second round. And after we beat them, we were pretty confident to go in the semis then also in the finals. At the same time we know that something can happen.”
Armstrong got off to a strong start in doubles, winning two of the three matches -- at Nos. 2 and 3 -- to take a 2-1 lead into singles play. Hacke also was a major factor there. She and junior Olga Kalodzitsa are the nation’s fifth-ranked doubles team and their victory against BYU Hawaii’s Marika Kobayashi and Tuionetoa at No. 2 gave Earnshaw only the second undefeated doubles team in his 15-year career. BYU’s Kobayasi and Tuionetoa also had entered the match undefeated.
“That was a special match right there,” Earnshaw said.
The Seasiders struck first in singles, with No.2-ranked Annie Hwang polishing off Armstrong’s No. 3-ranked Aleksandra Filipovski 6-1, 6-1 at No. 1. Armstrong answered at No. 3, where Barbora Krtickova beat Kobayashi 6-2, 7-6 (1) and at No. 6, where Natasa Vukovic beat Jade Griffin 0-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Needing one more point to secure the championship, Hacke turned a first-set setback into a convincing victory.
“I actually told them last night, ‘Sometimes when you reach the fourth or even the fifth hour of matches, things can turn in your favor,’” Earnshaw said. “You’ve just got to give yourself a chance.”
“We don’t know really what to expect and it was very close until the end, again,” Hacke. “We’re all experienced [at] nationals and I guess that helped us a lot [on Saturday].”
Also helpful was the cheering presence of the Armstrong men. After losing their Division II title match earlier in the day to arch-rival Barry on the last points of their last singles match, the Pirates returned en masse to support the women in their afternoon quest.
“I was a little worried how that was going to be,” said Earnshaw, citing emotional carryover. “I know some of them were very, very upset after their match. Normally I’d be annoyed if they were kind of smiling this close to a loss.”
It was permissible Saturday, since the occasion was the fourth time both Earnshaw-coached teams had played for a Division II title. It was the first time both weren’t victorious, but the Armstrong women’s triumph eased the sting from the men’s loss.