ATLAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — Two consecutive days of weather delays in the 2014 NCAA Division II Men’s Tennis Championships haven’t phased Hawaii Pacific, which simply has traded the whims of one tropical climate for another.
Thunderstorms pushed Wednesday’s Round-of-16 matches at Sanlando Park back to late-night starts and wee-hour finishes, and dictated nearly the same schedule with Thursday’s quarterfinals.But, the Sharks have yet to founder. On Wednesday, they started their Round-of-16 match against Columbus State — originally scheduled for 4 p.m. — at 11 p.m. On Thursday, they started their quarterfinal against Southwest Baptist — originally scheduled for 1 p.m., — at 7 p.m.
Sharks (22-0) prevailed in both, with 5-0 victories.
“I have to hand it to them,” Hawaii Pacific head coach Hendrik Bode said of his players, who didn’t return to their hotel until 2 a.m. Thursday, after Wednesday’s Round-of-16 victory against Columbus State. “They came out firing. [Wednesday’s] match was tough. We played a really tough team and that helped us.”
So did two days of schlepping around a hotel, entertaining oneself when one was supposed to be playing tennis and waiting. And waiting.
“It felt really good taking care of business, essentially,” Bode said of Thursday’s sweep of Southwest Baptist. “We did have to do a lot of waiting, but it’s the same for all the teams and tennis players should be used to that. Tennis is an outdoor sport, for the most part. College tennis is played outdoors and everyone has the same conditions. It wasn’t any different for our opponents. You have to wait and when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”
Hawaii Pacific went Thursday, beginning its methodical dismantling of Southwest Baptist at No. 1 doubles, where the nation’s top-ranked Division II men’s duo of Petr Michnev and Thibaud Berland defeated the nation’s 10th-ranked duo of Kristof Kinal and Omar Kheshen.
Michnev, also Division II’s top-ranked singles player, didn’t have to finish his singles match to earn Hawaii Pacific a point. Clinching honors went to teammate Adriano Locorotondo, who beat Southwest Baptist’s Daniel Cardona at No. 4 singles.
“I felt in the beginning, with the entire day in the hotel, it could have been a little more energetic,” Bode said of Hawaii Pacific’s opening speed on Thursday. “But when they needed it, it became better as the match progressed. The second part of the doubles match it got better and that carried on to singles.
“We were obviously the favorite going into this match and they knew that, and took care of business. And we probably bought ourselves an advantage with the energy we don’t have to spend by staying more on the court.”
Up next for the Sharks is defending champion Barry (25-2), which beat Concordia (N.Y.) 5-1 Thursday.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Bode said. “You pay all season and we played almost all of the top teams this season, so that’s what we’re here for. That’s what all the teams here in the tournament are looking forward to, and you know it’s going to be a lot of pressure, but a lot of fun, too. It doesn’t happen every day and that’s why you need to enjoy it.”
Bode knows how special this season could be because he’s lived it as a player. A German native and Sharks standout from 2007-2009 — almost all at No. 1 singles — the player Bode participated in three NCAA Division II tournaments. He spent 2010 as a graduate assistant, 2011 as an assistant coach and is in his third season as the head coach at his alma mater. The Sharks were NCAA quarterfinalists in 2012 and 2013.
“The school has given me everything,” Bode said. “I was very fortunate. Hawaii’s a very special place and I love it there. Everything I have is due to my opportunity of playing at HPU. I try to pass that on to our players and I think they feel the same way. At least, I hope so.”
They likely do. Passing on to Saturday’s national-title match means the latest step up for a program used to national prominence. Although Hawaii Pacific seeks its first national title, its last taste of glory came as Division II runner-up in 2003. The Sharks also were runner-ups in 2000 and '01, achievements Bode hears of often.
“I still talk to the players on those teams,” he said. “Every time I talk to them that topic comes up and they just can not let it go. But I think that has also helped me do my job a little better because I know. I have a special connection to the school. I went to the school, I played for the school and now I’m working for the school. I’m closer to it that if it was a school I didn’t know about before.”