MOBILE, Ala. -- Azusa Pacific’s men’s tennis team followed its formula for success into the championship match of the 56th Annual NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship after outlasting third-seeded Embry-Riddle (Fla.) 5-3 in Thursday’s semifinals, sending the second-seeded Cougars to their fifth straight championship final, where they will meet top-seeded Auburn Montgomery (Ala.) Friday morning.
Azusa Pacific won 2 of 3 in doubles for the third straight time at this year’s tournament, then sealed the match with a singles win from a freshman making his first appearance on the national stage.
“You always have confidence in your players, but you never know because they haven’t been in that situation before,” said Cougar head coach Mark Bohren. “It could have gone either way, so there were no guarantees. At some points, I felt that we were going to win it, and at other points I thought this might turn out to be a loss.”
David Goodman and Matthijs Bolsius rallied from a 4-2 deficit at No. 2 doubles to win 6 straight and pick up an 8-4 win and give the Cougars a valuable doubles point after Ronald Chow and Robby Dabbs got the Cougars rolling with an 8-5 win at No. 3 doubles. Chow and Dabbs, who compose the Cougars’ lone all-freshman tandem, won 4 of the final 5 games to snap a 4-4 tie.
Patrick Kur and Mathias Weber dropped 5 straight games after tying the match at 3-3 in No. 1 doubles, giving Embry-Riddle a much-needed lift heading into singles play.
Embry-Riddle threw a scare into the Cougars, winning 4 of the 6 opening sets in singles play, and Mislav Hizak and Carlos Bes posted quick straight-sets victories over Goodman and Weber at the No. 1 and 3 singles slots to give the Eagles a 3-2 advantage. In addition, the 2 Cougars who did win their opening sets, Kur and Art Fatkhiev, each dropped their second set to send the remaining 4 singles contests to decisive third sets.
Kur evened the match at 3 points apiece with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-4 win at No. 2 singles, and seconds after his match concluded, Fatkhiev put the finishing touches on a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win at No. 6 singles to return the lead to Azusa Pacific at 4-3 with just 2 matches still in progress. Chow, who dropped a tight opening set on a tiebreaker, rebounded to win the second set, 6-2, but trailed by a 4-1 margin at No. 5 singles as Bolsius went deep into a third set at No. 4 singles with Tomoaki Yasuda. Bolsius, who dropped the first 4 games of a 6-4 opening-set loss, had bounced back to win the second set and won the final 4 games of the final set to send the Cougars to the semifinals after a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
It was Bolsius’ second match-clinching victory of the tournament, and it was the third singles victory for the true freshman, a rookie on the national tournament stage.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 27-3 on the season. The matchup with Auburn Montgomery marks the fourth straight season the teams have faced head-to-head, with the national crown at stake in 3 of those contests.
“I’ve been on both ends of winning and losing a national championship,” said Bohren. “There’s nothing sweeter than winning a national championship, and there’s nothing worse than losing one. I think it’s going to be pretty even (tomorrow). They’re a good team, but we feel we can hang with them. We’ll need to play well in doubles and exceptional in singles. They are more experienced, but I think we’re ready. It should be a dogfight.”
Embry-Riddle’s season ends with a 19-2 overall record.
#1 - Mislav Hizak (ERAU) def. David Goodman (APU), 6-1, 6-2
#2 - Patrick Kur (APU) def. Konstantin Lazarov (ERAU), 6-0, 4-6, 6-4
#3 - Carlos Bes (ERAU) def. Mathias Weber (APU), 6-1, 6-2
#4 - Matthijs Bolsius (APU) def. Tomoaki Yasuda (ERAU), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
#5 - Ronald Chow (APU) vs. Istvan Bolgar (ERAU), 6-7, 6-2, 1-4 DNF
#6 - Art Fatkhiev (APU) def. Luke Maricic (ERAU), 6-1, 0-6, 6-3
#1 - M. Hizak/K. Lazarov (ERAU) def. P. Kur/M. Weber (APU), 8-3
#2 - D. Goodman/M. Bolsius (APU) def. C. Bes/T. Yasuda (ERAU), 8-4
#3 - R. Chow/R. Dabbs (APU) def. I. Bolgar/L. Maricic (ERAU), 8-5