LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Usually Kathleen Henry is one of her team’s most emotional players, letting out a little yell after every point.

But Saturday, with the Division II Women’s Tennis National Championship on the line against old rival BYU-Hawaii, Armstrong Atlantic State’s No. 4 singles player held herself together until the match was finished.

As the return volley by Tanja Rebholz sailed long past her, Henry let all those pent up emotions overwhelm her as she fell to the court sobbing with joy, not even noticing how blazing hot the hardcourt surface at Top Gun Tennis Academy must have been.

The Pirates only senior, Henry finished the way every senior wants to go out but so very few ever do, her match providing the championship point as Armstrong Atlantic clinched its seventh national championship and an unbeaten 29-0 season.

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Rabalais: Henry overwhelmed with Pirates’ win
Hysell: Barry not squeezed by expectations

“I’ve had dreams about this all year – if it comes down to me, how am I going to react,” said Henry, tears still clinging to her cheeks.

“It’s very surreal right now. I don’t think it’s going to hit me for a few more days.”

Henry had time to reflect on it as she and her teammates spent the afternoon cheering on the Armstrong Atlantic men’s team, as they faced West Florida in the championship match on the final day of the Division II National Championships Festival.

Armstrong Atlantic has now won four of the last five women’s national championships after winning three consecutive from 2008-10, that most recent title also coming against BYU-Hawaii two years ago in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

In the process, the Pirates denied BYU-Hawaii its eighth national title and its own unbeaten season. The Surfriders finished 31-1.

“It was a good year,” BYU-Hawaii coach David Porter said. “That’s a good team that beat us. They beat us in the finals two years ago. We were a little beat up and injured then, but we have no excuses today.”

Armstrong Atlantic coach Simon Earnshaw recalled the years when his program could never reach BYU-Hawaii’s level.

“When Andy Roddick was No. 2 in the world, they asked him if he had a rivalry with Roger Federer,” Earnshaw said. “He said it’s no rivalry until you beat them.

“Early in the rivalry there was no rivalry. They were just killing us. In fact, my first five years we got eliminated by them four of those five times.

“We’ve been fortunate to play extremely well situationally in some big matches.”

Going into the championship match, Earnshsaw knew his team would have to be efficient in all the right spots. That’s because playing BYU-Hawaii, teams almost have to concede two points to the Surfriders’ No. 1 singles and doubles player, Annie Hwang.

That’s how my tennis is,” she said. “I knew even if my tennis was ugly I was going to fight for every single point and die on the court if I had to.
-- Armstrong Atlantic State's Kathleen Henry

Unbeaten the last two seasons at singles, Hwang beat Armstrong Atlantic’s Barbora Krtickova at No. 1 singles to win the USTA/ITA Small College singles title in October in Mobile, Ala.

Hwang and Sherri Liu overwhelmed Krtickova and Aleksndra Filipovski 8-1 at No. 1 doubles, then Hwang dispatched Krtickova 6-3, 6-1 at No. 1 singles.

But Armstrong Atlantic took the other two doubles points, most critically at No. 2 when Marlen Hacke and Olga Kalodzitsa rallied from a 4-2 deficit to win 8-5 against Yuan Jia and Marietta Tuionetoa.

“No. 2 doubles was huge,” Earnshaw said. “We were down 4-2 in that match and were able to kind of stem the flow of points.”

Clara Perez won at No. 6 singles and Marlen Hacke won at No. 5 to allow Armstrong Atlantic to draw within one point of the championship at 4-2.

Still, the Surfriders were very much alive with Liu and Jia, like Hwang, both unbeaten on the season and forcing a third set at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively. That focused even more of a spotlight on court No. 4, where Henry had taken the first set 6-4 and trailed 5-3 in the second.

Armstrong Atlantic eliminated defending champion Barry 5-2 in Friday’s semifinals, but Henry lost her match.

“All year long it’s been difficult for her to close matches out,” Earnshsaw said. “[Friday] night, of all our girls, she was the only one showing negative emotion. Her body language was pretty poor.

“That being said, I never felt worried about her today. It just felt like it was meant to be. Every day is a new day, and there was no quit in her today.”

Henry was able to shrug off her loss against Barry and come back with her best effort with the championship on the line.

“That’s how my tennis is,” she said. “I knew even if my tennis was ugly I was going to fight for every single point and die on the court if I had to.”

Fortunately, all she needed to do was have a good cry.