MOBILE, Ala. -- Azusa Pacific’s men’s tennis team enters this week’s 2010 NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship in Mobile, Alabama, as the No. 3 seed, the highest seeding since a No. 2-seed in 2007 for a program that played in 5 consecutive national title matches from 2003 through 2007.
The 18-4 regular-season mark the Cougars bring into the national tournament is its best since that 2007 campaign, and 3 current seniors cut their NAIA Tournament teeth with an NAIA runner-up finish in 2007. The experienced, veteran-laden 2010 team adds 3 talented underclassmen in the middle of the starting lineup as it seeks to return to national prominence.
Azusa Pacific, 1 of just 3 programs in the 24-team 2010 NAIA Tournament field that has appeared in all 11 national tournaments since the NAIA switched from an individual to a team-based format in 2000, earned 1 of the first-round byes awarded to the top 8 seeds, and the Cougars open play on Wednesday, May 19, against the winner of Tuesday’s first-round match between Shorter (Ga.) College and Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) University. (Click here for the full tournament bracket)
A second-round win over the Shorter/Olivet Nazarene winner would put Azusa Pacific on a path that could include potential matchups in the quarterfinals against No. 6-seeded Golden State Athletic Conference rival Vanguard and a possible semifinal clash with No. 2-seeded Auburn Montgomery (Ala.), which has matched Azusa Pacific’s NAIA-record 6 consecutive national semifinals appearances.
“If we can stay healthy through the tournament, I truly believe we have a chance to win it,” head coach Mark Bohren said. “This year is right up there as one of our best seasons since winning the NAIA title in 2005. This team has met and exceeded expectations, and as a team we have improved throughout the season.”
The Golden State Athletic Conference leads all conferences with 6 schools in the championship field, and 5 of the GSAC representatives are seeded in the top 8 of the tournament. Joining Azusa Pacific from the GSAC is top-seeded defending NAIA champion Fresno Pacific, fifth-seeded Concordia, sixth-seeded Vanguard, and eighth-seeded Westmont. Point Loma Nazarene takes on Mobile (Ala.) in first-round action Tuesday for a trip to the second round against No. 7-seeded Oklahoma Christian, making it possible for the GSAC represent 6 of the 8 quarterfinalists.
The dual-match format in NAIA Tournament competition begins with 3 doubles matches, each worth 1 team point, which is followed by a lineup of 6 singles matches, which are also each worth 1 team point. In national tournament play, the match ends when one team clinches victory with 5 team points.
COUGAR SINGLES LINEUP
No. 1: Senior Matthijs Bolsius, the 2010 ITA West Region Senior Player of the Year and a 3-time NAIA All-American and All-GSAC selection, is ranked No. 4 in the ITA’s national NAIA singles rankings, and he posted a 12-6 mark in 2010. Bolsius’ career dual-match singles record is 65-23, which includes a 43-18 clip at the top singles position. He finished the season with 3 straight wins, including a 3-set win over Fresno Pacific’s Xavier Smith (ITA-NAIA No. 2) and a victory in straight-sets against Concordia’s Augusto Elias (ITA-NAIA No. 11).
No. 2: Sophomore Janosch Apelt, ranked No. 16 nationally in the ITA NAIA singles rankings, brings a 14-5 singles record into the tournament. Apelt, a 2-time All-GSAC and 2009 NAIA All-American second team selection, posted a season-high 6-match winning streak that included wins in straight sets over individually-ranked opponents in conference play. He bested Point Loma Nazarene’s Curt Wheeler (ITA-NAIA No. 22) and Westmont’s Bryan Cox (ITA-NAIA No. 28) in the streak, which began with a 6-2, 6-3 win over NCAA Division I Montana State’s top singles player Pawel Turzanski.
No. 3: Sophomore Alex Lane (ITA-NAIA No. 31) went 12-6 in his first season as a Cougar, providing valuable straight-set wins from the No. 3 position in crucial GSAC wins over Concordia, Vanguard, and Point Loma Nazarene. Lane’s only defeat in the final month of the season was a narrow 3-set decision (3-6, 6-4, 6-4) against Fresno Pacific’s Martin Vaisse (ITA-NAIA No. 24). Lane finished the season with 5 wins in 7 matches, all against teams ranked in the top 15 of their respective associations.
No. 4: Freshman Jochem Hoefnagels provided an immediate impact in his initial campaign, winning 6 of his first 8 collegiate matches to earn a boost up the lineup to the No. 4 spot, where he went 6-2 this season. Hoefnagels was Azusa Pacific’s wins leader in singles, notching a 15-5 mark and winning 9 of his final 10 to close out the regular season. His surprising 3-set win over Fresno Pacific’s Denny Fafek (ITA-NAIA No. 40) kept the Cougars within striking distance in a narrow 5-4 loss to the defending NAIA champion Sunbirds April 12.
No. 5: Veteran senior Mathias Weber bounced back from a 5-match losing streak midway through the season, finishing with No. 5 singles victories in GSAC victories over Point Loma Nazarene, Westmont, and Concordia. Weber is a 2-time NAIA All-American who also garnered NAIA All-American honorable mention as a 2009 junior.
No. 6: Rounding out the singles lineup is another experienced veteran, senior Ronald Chow, who posted a 5-6 singles record in 2010 and finished the regular season with a 6-4, 6-4 No. 6 singles win over NCAA Division III No. 3-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ Ronald Wu. Other possibilities for singles play include senior Danny Colten and sophomores Ilja Ikonnikov and Whitman Hough.
COUGAR DOUBLES LINEUP
No. 1: (Bolsius/Hoefnagels) Azusa Pacific’s top doubles team is ranked No. 8 in the ITA’s national NAIA doubles rankings, and the pair won 4 of 5 matches to close out the campaign, including a convincing 8-0 blanking of Vanguard’s Tino Brodar and Lucas Pereira, the NAIA’s No. 10 doubles team according to the latest ITA rankings. Bolsius and Hoefnagels compiled a 9-6 mark in doubles play this year, all at the No. 1 position.
No. 2: (Apelt/Weber) The Cougars’ No. 2 tandem of Apelt and Weber generated a sparkling 15-1 record in 2010. The pair is ranked No. 14 in the ITA-NAIA doubles rankings and finished the campaign with 10 straight doubles wins, including 5 against tandems in the ITA-NAIA top 25. Azusa Pacific claimed the No. 2 doubles point in 20 of its 22 regular-season matches.
No. 3: (Chow/Lane) Azusa Pacific’s No. 3 doubles position was nearly as productive as the No. 2 spot, with the Cougars winning 19 of 22 regular-season matches at the third doubles position. Chow and Lane registered 11 of those wins there, and the pair was 13-2 overall on the year. They had a 12-match doubles winning streak halted with an 8-6 defeat in the season finale against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, but they generated a team-best 10-1 mark in GSAC play.
ABOUT OLIVET NAZARENE: Olivet Nazarene University, ranked No. 25 in the final NAIA Top 25 Coaches Poll, is making its 8th consecutive NAIA Tournament appearance, although the Tigers have faced Azusa Pacific just once in national tournament play (2005 second round). Because Olivet Nazarene’s conference, the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, has only 4 schools that sponsor men’s tennis, the Tigers had to win an unaffiliated conference tournament to return to the NAIA Tournament, doing so with a 5-2 win over Aquinas (Mich.) on April 30. Since then, Olivet Nazarene has played 4 more matches, all in last week’s National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) tournament, which was also held at the Mobile Tennis Center. The 2009 NCCAA champion Tigers’ title defense ended in the semifinals with a 5-2 defeat to Palm Beach Atlantic (Fla.), leaving their spring record 10-8 heading into this week’s NAIA Tournament.
ABOUT SHORTER: Shorter College finished second out of 5 teams in the Southern States Athletic Conference, and a 14-5 campaign earned the Hawks 1 of the 9 at-large spots in the 24-team NAIA Tournament field. Shorter’s top 2 singles players are both ranked in the top 30 of the ITA’s national NAIA singles rankings. Freshman Frenchman Badr Cherradi is ranked No. 23 in NAIA singles, and fellow freshman Luis Quintero, a native of Bogota, Colombia, checks in at No. 30 in the national singles rankings. The pair also represents Shorter’s top doubles tandem, ranking No. 17 in the ITA-NAIA national doubles rankings. After dropping 2 of its first 3 dual matches of the year, Shorter reeled off 11 wins in its next 12 matches and finished the year ranked No. 14 in the NAIA Top 25 Coaches’ Poll.
ABOUT THE DIRECTORS CUP:Azusa Pacific has won 5 consecutive Directors’ Cup trophies, earning recognition as the best overall athletics program in the NAIA, and the Cougars’ pursuit of an NAIA-record sixth Cup hinges on national tournament finishes by 4 Azusa Pacific spring sports programs (men’s & women’s tennis and men’s & women’s track & field).
The Directors’ Cup is a prestigious awards program administered by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) that annually honors the best overall collegiate athletics programs in the country. Points are awarded to each school based on the postseason national tournament finish of a pre-determined number of men’s and women’s sports. The NAIA award is tabulated using a maximum of 6 men’s and 6 women’s sports. In tennis, a second-round appearance has been worth 53 Directors’ Cup points, with an appearance in the quarterfinals worth 70 points.