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Young Cougars Seek Strong Finish

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Published
May 17, 2011
By
Tyler Wilson Humphries

MOBILE, Ala. -- The Azusa Pacific men’s tennis team enters this week’s 2011 NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship in Mobile, Alabama, for its twelfth consecutive appearance as the No. 5-seed in the 24-team field. The Cougars earned 1 of 8 first-round byes awarded to the top 8 seeds, and they open play on Wednesday, May 18, against the winner of the first-round match between No 21-seeded Huntington (Ind.) and No. 12-seeded Graceland (Iowa). (Click here for the full tournament bracket)

Azusa Pacific enters the tournament with a 15-6 regular-season record, which included a 6-match winning streak and a 14-2 stretch that helped the Cougars secure a second-place finish in the ultra-competitive Golden State Athletic Conference with a 10-4 conference record.

Since the NAIA switched from an individual tournament to a team dual-match format in 2000, Azusa Pacific, No. 2-seed Embry-Riddle (Fla.) and No. 4-seed Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) are the only 3 teams to appear in all 12 national tournaments. Since the 2003 season, Azusa Pacific is 21-7 in national tournament competition, claiming the program’s only NAIA title in 2005.

A second-round win over the Huntington/Graceland winner would put Azusa Pacific into the quarterfinals for a potential matchup with No. 4-seeded Oklahoma Christian along with a possible semifinals clash with GSAC rival Fresno Pacific, which is the tournament’s No. 1 seed.

For the second straight year, the Golden State Athletic Conference has sent the same 6 teams to the national tournament, the most representatives of any NAIA conference. Four of the 6 GSAC schools have clinched the first round bye. Azusa Pacific is accompanied by top-seeded Fresno Pacific, No. 6-seeded Westmont, and No. 7- seeded Point Loma Nazarene, as well as No. 9-seeded Vanguard and No. 13-seeded Concordia.

The Cougars are guided by head coach Mark Bohren, who is the only coach in the tournament who has taken both the men’s and women’s tennis programs from a single school to every NAIA Tournament since the dual-match format began in 2000. Bohren collected his 500th career coaching victory earlier this year, a total that includes 30 combined seasons as a collegiate men’s and women’s tennis head coach. Bohren is now 529-209 (213-108 women; 316-201 men) in his 30 combined seasons as a head coach of collegiate men’s and women’s tennis programs.

“I think we’re ready for the national tournament,” Bohren said. “This team has overachieved more than any other team I’ve had. We’re such a young team, that to still finish second in the conference and be ranked in the top 5 nationally – I couldn’t ask for anything more. They’ve met and exceeded my expectations by a lot, and I think they’re healthy and ready for this tournament.”

Last season, Azusa Pacific rode a team with 3 seniors all the way to the semifinals, where they were eliminated by the eventual NAIA champion Auburn Montgomery (Ala.). The Cougars send 3 juniors as their most experienced participants, a group led by junior Janosch Apelt, who provided the most compelling individual effort in the entire tournament last season when he battled severe cramping in hot and humid conditions to hobble to a 3-set win over Vanguard’s Lucas Pereira in Azusa Pacific’s 5-4 quarterfinal win.

“Janosch went to the very limit of his physical ability last year, and we’ll talk together as a team about what it takes with conditioning and weather factors in this tournament,” Bohren said. “It’s nice to have a whole team that’s played in a national tournament, which will be exciting for next year since we won’t lose anybody from this year’s team.”

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: Junior Janosch Apelt, ranked No. 10 in the ITA-NAIA singles rankings, enters the tournament with a singles match record of 13-7, playing exclusively in the top singles spot all season. Apelt is a 3-time All-GSAC selection who earned 2009 NAIA All-American second team and 2010 first team recognition, and his 2011 campaign includes singles victories over Fresno Pacific’s Kirill Sinitsyn (ITA-NAIA No. 1), Westmont’s Carlos Lima (ITA-NAIA No. 5), Vanguard’s Lucas Pereira (ITA-NAIA No. 7), as well as a straight-sets season sweep over Concordia's Andrey Potapkin (ITA-NAIA No. 21). Apelt strung together winning streaks of 3, 4, and 5 matches during the year, and he went 8-2 in his final 10 regular-season matches, a stretch that included wins over Sinitsyn, Lima, Pereira, Potapkin, and Point Loma Nazarene’s Joel Myers (ITA-NAIA No. 15). Apelt has a 3-2 career national tournament record, including last year’s thrilling win over Pereira that propelled the Cougars into the semifinals.

No. 2: Sophomore Jochem Hoefnagels, ranked No. 23 in the ITA-NAIA singles rankings, completed the regular season with an overall singles match record of 13-4, posting a 12-4 mark out of the No. 2 position plus a win in his only match at the No. 1 position. Hoefnagels’ campaign included winning streaks of 4 and 6 matches, and the 2010 NAIA All-American second team selection earned his first career All-GSAC honors this season. His notable victories this year include wins over Westmont’s Bryan Cox (ITA-NAIA No. 19) and Fresno Pacific’s Cledson Carvalho (ITA-NAIA No. 25), plus a season sweep in a pair of matches against Point Loma Nazarene’s Tyler Bowman (ITA-NAIA No. 35). Hoefnagels played at the No. 4 position in last year’s NAIA Tournament, winning his only official result last year with 2 other matches going unfinished.

No. 3: Freshman Ben Eger makes his NAIA Tournament debut Wednesday, and Azusa Pacific’s singles wins leader brings with him a 16-4 overall match record. Eger went 13-3 at the No. 3 position and 3-1 at No. 2. His 13-3 mark tied him for the GSAC wins lead at the No. 3 spot, and he was 10-3 against GSAC opponents. Eger won in straight sets in 14 of his 16 victories, and he ended the regular season by winning 5 matches in a row for his third streak of the year of at least 5 consecutive wins. Eger has won 11 of his past 12 matches, and he went 16-2 after dropping his first 2 singles matches of the season.

No. 4: Junior Whitman Hough brings an 8-12 overall match record into the NAIA Tournament, posting a 4-1 record at the No. 3 position and a 4-11 record at the No. 4 position. He posted a 6-7 record against GSAC opponents, and he finished the season with wins in 3 of his final 5 matches. Hough helped the Cougars to a key early-season victory against Concordia, battling to a 3-set win over Ryan McNamara by a score of 7-5, 6-7, 10-8. Hough played in 2 NAIA Tournament matches as a 2009 freshman, going 0-1 with an unfinished match he led by a 6-2, 4-0 margin. He did not appear in last season’s national tournament.

No. 5: Freshman Frederik Wilkens is the second true freshman in the Cougars’ singles lineup, and he compiled a 14-7 singles record in his collegiate debut. His 12-5 record at the No. 5 position ranked third in the GSAC in winning percentage at that spot, and his 9-5 GSAC record included wins in 4 of the final 5 matches of the regular season. Wilkens recorded 9 straight-set wins, and he posted a season-high 7-match winning streak in a grueling 8-match, 11-day stretch midway through the year.

No. 6: Junior Ilja Ikonnikov rounds out Azusa Pacific’s singles lineup, and he will be making his first national tournament appearance. Ikonnikov posted a singles record of 13-4, recording a 7-3 record at the No. 6 position and collecting 5 wins in 6 combined matches at the No. 4 and 5 positions. He started the season with a season-high 5-match winning streak that started with a 6-4, 6-3 straight-set victory over Fresno Pacific’s Amarit Sanchez. Each of his first 5 wins came in straight sets, and he finished the season strong as well, winning 8 of his final 10 matches. He wrapped up the regular season with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Point Loma Nazarene’s D.J. Jaehnig, giving him straight-set wins in all 13 of his singles victories.

Others: Sophomore Alex Dickson registered a 7-3 singles record, and junior Daniel Moore posted a victory in his only singles appearance of the season. Moore was 6-4 in doubles, playing all 10 times with Eger, and he owns a 1-1 career NAIA Tournament singles mark in national tournament appearances in 2008 and 2009.

COUGAR DOUBLES LINEUP

No. 1: (Apelt and Hoefnagels) The Cougars’ top doubles team is ranked No. 2 in the ITA’s national NAIA doubles rankings, finishing the season with an overall match record of 17-3 exclusively at the top doubles position, including a 12-1 record in GSAC play. The pair started the season by winning 8 consecutive matches, including an 8-3 victory over Westmont’s Bryan Cox and Carlos Lima, who finished the year ranked No. 3 in the ITA-NAIA doubles rankings. The duo’s only GSAC defeat came to Cox and Lima by an 8-5 margin April 12, although Apelt and Hoefnagels avenged that loss a few weeks later by defeating Westmont’s top tandem, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 in the doubles championship of the independent college division at the prestigious 111th Annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament. Both players have doubles experience in national tournament play, although this season was their first as doubles partners. Hoefnagels was paired with Matthijs Bolsius at No. 1 doubles in the 2010 NAIA Tournament, and Apelt has doubles national tournament experience as well, posting a 1-1 record as a 2009 freshman with Ikonnikov at No. 3 doubles before going 2-1 in 2010 with Mathias Weber at No. 2 doubles.

No. 2: (Hough and Ikonnikov) Azusa Pacific’s No. 2 team has generated a 14-6 overall match record playing exclusively at the No. 2 position. They posted a 9-4 GSAC record, giving them the GSAC lead for the most No. 2 doubles wins. The duo started out strong, winning 6 in a row early in the season with an impressive victory over Westmont’s Goranson and Zielen (ITA-NAIA No. 19). They finished the regular season by winning 6 of their last 9, including an 8-2 victory over Concordia’s Guler/Santarelli tandem (ITA-NAIA No. 23). Earlier this month at the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament, Hough advanced to the doubles semifinals with Ben Eger. In 2009, Ikonnikov recorded a 1-1 NAIA Tournament doubles record at the No. 3 position with Apelt.

No. 3: (Eger and Wilkens) The third tandem Azusa Pacific sends to nationals has posted a season doubles record of 3-5. Eger spent the first half of the season paired up primarily with Moore, a combination that resulted in a 6-4 doubles record. Wilkens also teamed up with Dickson, and that tandem posted a 3-1 season record. Eger and Wilkens picked up an 8-4 victory over Point Loma Nazarene’s No. 3 doubles team of D.J. Jaehnig and Angel Tavera, 1 of just 2 GSAC losses for the Jaehnig/Tavera tandem this season.

ABOUT HUNTINGTON: Huntington (Ind.) University rebounded from a 4-11 campaign in 2010 to claim the Mid-Central College Conference’s automatic national tournament bid with a 13-3 overall record that included a perfect 8-0 conference record. Huntington won the MCC Tournament championship October 9, earning the program’s first-ever NAIA Tournament bid, but the Foresters lost all 3 of their spring matches by a combined 23-4 margin. Huntington is led by Russian freshman Vladislav Khudziy, who is ranked No. 20 in the ITA’s NAIA national singles rankings.

ABOUT GRACELAND: Graceland (Iowa) University is making its sixth consecutive and tenth overall NAIA Tournament appearance. The Yellow Jackets bring overall record of 11-5 into the tournament, including a 4-0 record in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. Graceland won an automatic bid through an unaffiliated group championship tournament that combined the HAAC with the American Midwest Conference. The Yellow Jackets are led by senior Remy Caffardo, a French native who is ranked No. 3 in the ITA’s NAIA national singles rankings. Graceland and Azusa Pacific met in the second round of the 2000 NAIA Tournament, with the Cougars recording a 5-1 win. Graceland is 1-4 against GSAC teams in the national tournament, posting its only win over a GSAC foe in the second round of the 2008 tournament. However, the Yellow Jackets have been eliminated from the tourney by GSAC opponents in 3 consecutive seasons.

LIVE COVERAGE: Azusa Pacific’s Sports Information Department is pleased to offer live scoring updates via Twitter and the Cougar Athletics website. Follow APUCougars on Twitter, or check live scoring updates on the web at apu.edu/athletics.

ABOUT THE DIRECTORS CUP:Azusa Pacific has won 6 consecutive Directors’ Cup trophies, earning recognition as the best overall athletics program in the NAIA, and the Cougars’ quest to become the first NAIA school to ever win 7 straight Cups concludes with upcoming national tournament appearances for 5 Azusa Pacific spring sports programs (men’s & women’s tennis, softball, and men’s & women’s track & field). Azusa Pacific leads the 2010-11 Directors’ Cup standings by nearly 200 points heading into the spring sports championships, and the 192-point margin over second-place Lindenwood (Mo.) represents the largest lead any team has ever taken into the spring sports season.

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 is worth 53 Directors’ Cup points, with an appearance in the quarterfinals worth 70 points.