May 15, 2010

By Jarrod Rudolph
Special to

Altamonte Springs, Fla. - After years of close calls and disappointments, the Barry University men's tennis team finally has the championship that has narrowly escaped them so many times. The Buccaneers beat No. 1-ranked Valdosta State, 5-4, to win the NCAA Division II men's tennis championship on Saturday at Sanlando Tennis Park.

5-4. Winning an exciting - and exhausting - win over the top-ranked Valdosta State Blazers, Barry erased the memories of the disappointment of losses in the last two national championship games.

History looked as if it would again be against the Buccaneers, two-time national runners-up, as they fell behind, 2-1, after doubles. Things didn't immediately get better for Barry (Miami Shores, Fla.) as Valdosta (Ga.) State quickly won two of the singles matches and was on the brink of the championship.

But Barry had come too far and didn't plan on going out without a fight. Feeding off the energy of their teammates and a support from a robust Barry contingent, the Buccaneers fought back, winning the championship in the last match of the day in a tie-breaker.

"We were one behind and we knew that being behind by one was not fatal," Barry coach Dr. George Samuel said. "We still had a good chance of pulling through for the win. It was a bit of hard work and a little luck at the end."

Barry made some of their own luck - as the match wore on, the Bucs seemed fresher than their Valdosta State counterparts.

"I didn't have one single athlete out there that showed signs of cramping because we constantly fed them all the fluids they needed and it seemed to make a big difference for us," Samuel said.

Down, 2-1, after the doubles, Barry mounted a rally behind Max Wimmer's straight-set win at No. 4 singles, to close the match gap to 4-3. Barry's Emanuel Fraitzl won in three sets before Andrew Sharnov came from behind and won his match - and the team championship - on a tiebreak.

Located about four hours south of Sanlando Tennis Park, Barry had strong crowd support, which Samuel things helped his team stay focused.

"They fed off the crowd's energy," Samuel said. "We had a lot of people come up from Miami Shores to support us. When they found out we were in the finals they jumped in their car or on a bus and came out here to support us. It's really nice because these are the people we work with on a day-in basis and they care. That's the thing about Barry; they support their students and athletes."

The championship was Barry's first and the first for long-time coach Dr. George Samuel. Runner-up in four previous championship games, Samuel can finally put national champion on his impressive resume.

"This is a real treat. I never imagined how it would feel to win it," Samuel said. "Always wondered how it would feel. I don't think I could have completed my coaching career without winning one of those; I would have felt incomplete."