ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. -- It didn’t end the way Armstrong Atlantic had hoped in Saturday’s 2014 NCAA Division II Women’s Tennis Championship.
Barry said a collective ‘No,” to Pirate aspirations of winning a third consecutive national title. Instead, the Buccaneers collected their second Division II championship under epic conditions — a five-and-a-half-hour 5-4 victory at Sanlando Park in suburban Orlando.
Although both teams -- traditional Division II powerhouses -- have a long rivalry in regular-season and NCAA matches, Saturday’s clash was the first time they’d met with a Division II title on the line. It was Armstrong Atlantic’s 14th title-match appearance, Barry’s third. Armstrong Atlantic now has six national runner-up finishes and has won six of the past 10 Division II titles, and eight overall.
Win or lose, four Pirates had special familial support on Saturday, with parents and siblings scattered among the bleachers and benches surrounding Sanlando Park’s championship courts. And, these families hadn’t arrived via domestic drives and flights.The Pirates’ four seniors -- Aleksndra Filipovski, Marlen Hacke, Olga Kalodzitsa, Barbara Krtickova -- hail from Hungary, Germany, Belarus and the Czech Republic, respectively. So do their family members, who took transcontinental flights to cheer on their daughters.
“Sometimes you don’t even meet them until this point,” said Armstrong Atlantic head coach Simon Earnshaw, a native of England, of his international players’ families.
Hacke’s mother and Kalodzitsa’s father were in Orlando, as were Filipovski’s and Krtickova’s parents. Filipovski’s sister and fiancé also made the trip. Former Armstrong Atlantic standout Alida Muller-Wehlau was present,with her parents and her brother and sister-in-law.
Also on hand: the family of Armstrong Atlantic’s senior No. 1 men’s singles player, Pedro Scocuglia.
“Sometimes they don’t necessarily come from a background that makes it easy for them.,” Earnshaw said of international players’ families’ ability or willingness to travel to see their sons and daughters play NCAA tennis. “Whereas you have Pedro’s, and we see them every year this time of year.
“Sometimes you may have a negative perspective as a coach that parents may be a problem, but maybe the girls are believing in the propaganda I feed them and telling the truth to their parents. It seems to be relatively pleasant most of the time, so far.”
Once Saturday’s single matches began, Kalodzitsa’s father parked on a bench outside her No. 6 singles court. The Filipovskis sat in different spots to watch Aleksndra’s dramatic 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory against Barry’s Emma Onila at No. 1 singles. The former is the No. 2-ranked Division II singles players; the latter is ranked No. 7.
It was the first time Filipovski’s parents had seen her play a collegiate match.
“It was great,” she said. “It was great support from them and from all the families we had.”
“It’s interesting,” Earnshaw said. “Marlen and Olga just have the one parent, whereas Pedro’s, they’re here with a whole entourage of people and it’s interesting to see how the dynamic works between the different family groups, of parents.”
The assorted moms, dads and siblings were on hand because of Armstrong Atlantic’s graduation on May. 10, at the school’s Savannah, Georgia, campus. All four senior Pirates walked in the ceremony.
“Then Simon arranged us a graduation lunch, so all of us could be one room,” Filipovski said. “So it was great. I think it was 45 of us.”
“The location is good,” Earnshaw said. “Savannah’s only about a three- or four-hour drive away. I think most Europeans, or wherever you’re from -- Missouri or Germany -- you like to take a trip to Orlando. So it was nice that we can bring them all together.”
With conversations in multiple tongues -- including English -- sign language and translating had to suffice among the families.
“They don’t really do that,” Filipovski said of player-parents’ attempts at English. “We help with the translations -- all of us on the team. Which works out great, but it’s a little hard to understand.”
She had no trouble understanding her sister, Lili, and Lili’s fiancé, Zoran. Filipovski said Lili also speaks English, but that her sister and future brother-in-law came through loud and clear in whatever language they chose during Saturday’s tough, extended championship match.
“My sister and her fiance are extremely loud,” she said. “You can hear them from like, the last court. It was awesome having them here.”
The Filipovski family had planned to attend Aleksndra’s graduation, then stick around for the NCAA Division II Round of 16. While Aleksndra and her teammates slogged through Round of 16, quarterfinal and semifinal victories, her family cruised in the Bahamas. The Filipovskis arrived in Orlando on Saturday.
Earnshaw understands. Having completed his 15th season as the head coach of Armstrong Atlantic’s men’s and women’s teams, he played his entire collegiate career at Georgia College & State, completed a graduate degree and launched a coaching career without his family able to travel from England to see him play.
“My family didn’t come [to the United States] until I got married,” he said. “Not that they certainly didn’t want to, it’s just not cheap. It just doesn’t happen.”