AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific wrapped up a brutal week of matches on 5 consecutive days with a 6-3 loss to defending NCAA Div. II national champion Barry (Fla.) University Saturday afternoon at the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex.
Throughout the lineup, the Cougars seemed worn down by the grueling stretch, and one could hardly blame them for feeling the fatigue. Three of their 5 opponents this week were ranked in the Top 10 of 3 separate divisions of college tennis, starting with Tuesday’s 7-2 win over the NAIA’s No. 7-ranked Westmont. A 6-3 victory Wednesday over NCAA Div. III No. 4-ranked Emory (Ga.) was followed by an 8-1 Golden State Athletic Conference win over Biola on Thursday, and Azusa Pacific sent NCAA Div. II’s No. 42 Grand Canyon (Ariz.) to a 7-2 defeat Friday.
“If you had told me at the beginning of this stretch that we’d win 4 of the 5 matches and lose to Barry in the fifth match, I’d take it in a heartbeat,” Cougar head coach Mark Bohren said. “The guys played extremely well all week. Maybe that’s too much tennis in one week, and that’s my fault, but in the grand scheme of things, I think we learned a lot.”
Azusa Pacific gets a much-needed day of rest on Sunday before jumping back into another challenging week. It takes on 3 more ranked opponents after a 5-match week that ended against a defending national champion, a week where the schedule closely resembled the grueling format of the NAIA national tournament in May.
“That’s the main reason we scheduled this week,” Bohren said. “It’s a good level of competition to see where we are physically, and the guys reacted great by competing well all week. Next week’s not that easy, either, since we have 3 more tough matches, but this is the time of year where good quality teams want to come play us, so we play them.”
For the first time all week, the Cougars lost 2 doubles matches to fall behind in the match, 2-1. Barry extended it to a 4-1 lead with a pair of straight-set wins, first at No. 4 singles and followed by the No. 1 singles position. Freshman Frederik Wilkens cut into Barry’s lead with a win at No. 5 singles, winning the opening set on a 7-2 set tiebreaker and leading in the second by a 4-3 margin when Barry’s Ollie Lemaitre retired from the match. Willkens won all 5 of his singles matches in the week to improve his individual record to 7-3 on the year.
At No. 6, junior Ilja Ikonnikov’s opponent, Sergio Velez, began cramping just 2 points away from a straight-set win, but Ikonnikov scored the next 2 points to win the game and pull to within 5-4 in the second set. While Velez took his medical timeout, Max Wimmer began pulling away in the third set at No. 2 singles, and just after Velez took the court at No. 6, Wimmer completed a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win over Jochem Hoefnagels to clinch the match for Barry.
Velez held serve to complete his 7-5, 6-4 win over Ikonnikov before Ben Eger notched a 3-set win at No. 3 singles. Eger won his opening set, 7-5, and dropped the second in a set tiebreaker decided by just 2 points. With the match outcome already in hand for Barry, Eger won the super tiebreaker set, 10-7, for the final 6-3 margin in the match. Eger won 4 of his 5 singles matchups this week and has a 7-3 individual season record.
Junior Janosch Apelt and Hoefnagels notched Azusa Pacific’s lone doubles point, posting an 8-3 win at the top doubles position. The Cougars’ first and second doubles teams went 4-1 on the week, and the top 2 doubles positions are a combined 17-3 on the year.
“The highlight of the week was our doubles play,” Bohren said. “It was strong all week, and overall we competed extremely well in every position. That seems to be the makeup of this team – everyone has to compete super hard, and we have to work really hard with a lot of emotion to win matches.”
The loss snapped Azusa Pacific’s 6-match winning streak, dropping the Cougars’ overall record to 7-3. Barry improves to 7-5.
Two of them are from the NAIA ranks, with the Cougars hosting No. 15 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) on Monday (March 14) and visiting No. 6 Point Loma Nazarene Friday (March 18). Sandwiched in between is a home matchup with NCAA Div. II’s No. 29-ranked Midwestern State (Texas) on Wednesday, March 16.