AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Azusa Pacific let a pair of doubles matches slip away against the NCAA Div. III’s top-ranked Middlebury (Vt.) College, but the Cougars came back strong to win 5 of the 6 singles matches for a 6-3 win over the Panthers Wednesday afternoon at the Munson & Bavougian Tennis Complex.
Azusa Pacific led at the midpoint of all 3 doubles matches, holding a 4-1 lead at No. 2 doubles and 4-3 edges at the No. 1 and 3 matches. While the No. 2 tandem of juniors Whitman Hough and Ilja Ikonnikov cruised to a convincing 8-2 win, Middlebury’s No. 3 pair got a late service break from the Cougars’ Ben Eger and Daniel Moore that allowed the Panthers to win 3 straight games and even the match with an 8-6 No. 3 doubles win.
In the top doubles match, junior Janosch Apelt and sophomore Jochem Hoefnagels held a late 7-6 lead, but Middlebury’s Andrew Peters and Brantner Jones turned the match around with a service break that tied the match at 7-7. After both teams held serve, the Panthers came back from a 3-2 deficit in the set tiebreaker, rallying for 5 consecutive points to close out the 7-3 tiebreaker victory and giving the Panthers a 2-1 edge heading into singles play.
The Cougars quickly turned things around with a pair of straight-set wins from the fifth and sixth spots in the singles lineup. Ikonnikov registered a 6-0, 6-3 win at No. 5 singles, and sophomore Alex Dickson wasn’t far behind with a 6-0, 6-2 win at No. 6 to push the Cougars back in front in the match by a 3-2 margin.
Eger bounced back from his tough doubles defeat to post a 6-3, 6-2 victory in just his second appearance of the year at the No. 2 position in the singles lineup. That win gave the Cougars a 4-2 edge, and Hough provided the decisive point with another straight-set victory when he posted a 6-1, 6-4 result over Alec Parower at the No. 3 spot.
Hough’s win came during the break between the second and third sets at No. 1 singles, allowing Apelt and Middlebury’s Andrew Peters to play a 10-point super tiebreaker rather than a full third set. Apelt claimed the Cougars’ fifth consecutive singles win when he got out to an early lead in the tiebreaker set and held on for the 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 win. In the last remaining singles match, freshman Frederik Wilkens was edged in 3 sets at No. 4 singles to Middlebury’s Spencer Lunghino. Wilkens won the opening set, 6-1, but Lunghino rallied for 6-3 and 7-5 wins in the second and third sets to salvage a singles point for Middlebury in the final team score.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 12-4 overall, while Middlebury’s first loss drops the Panthers to 8-1 on the year. The Cougars wrap up their 3-match week with another clash with a highly-ranked NAIA foe when No. 12-ranked Vanguard visits Azusa on Friday, April 1.