AZUSA, Calif. -- Freshman Gary Yam started Azusa Pacific's comeback after dropping the first two doubles matches, and he finished it off with a match-clinching singles win that lifted the NAIA's No. 4-ranked Cougars to a 5-4 win over NCAA Div. II's No. 21-ranked Grand Canyon.
Azusa Pacific's No. 2 doubles tandem of Ben Eger and Freddy Wilkens had a chance to swing doubles in the Cougars' favor, serving for the match late in the doubles set, but Grand Canyon's Peter Kazianschuetz and Patrice Giraldi came back for a 9-7 win that pushed the Antelopes' lead in the match to 2-0. Yam teamed up with Ilja Ikonnikov for an 8-5 win at No. 3 doubles to salvage a crucial point for Azusa Pacific heading into singles play.
"This is an exciting win for us, because I think that Grand Canyon is going to be a top 10 team in Division II at some point this season," Cougar head coach Mark Bohren said. "We fought hard in doubles and had a chance to win No. 2 (doubles), but Gary and Ilja came up big to get us that doubles point."
After Grand Canyon picked up a straight-sets win at No. 4 singles to increase its lead in the match to 3-1, the top of the Cougar lineup took over. Junior Jochem Hoefnagels, playing in the top singles position for the first time this season and just the second time in his career, got the Cougars back on the board with a solid 6-1, 6-3 victory over Frederic Schoelzel, who finished last season ranked as NCAA Div. II's No. 2 singles player in the west region and No. 17 nationally.
Wilkens put together a strong finish in an impressive 6-3, 6-1 No. 3 singles win over Stephane Murray, bringing the teams even at 3-3. Senior Janosch Apelt edged Giraldi at No. 2 singles, 6-4, 6-4.
"We switched Jochem and Janosch (Apelt) at the top of singles to see how they would react, and both guys won," Bohren said. "Today gave us a good test against a quality opponent as we face another one tomorrow when we take on Vanguard."
Ikonnikov narrowly dropped a second-set tiebreaker that forced the outcome of the match to be determined by Yam's No. 6 singles matchup with Kevin Anderson. Yam, who won the opening set handily, 6-2, held on for a 7-5 win in the second set to improve his personal singles record to 4-1 on the year while clinching the match victory for Azusa Pacific.
"We don’t know yet what Gary can bring, because he’s new to the team this year, and the talent a player has doesn’t always matter until you see how they react under pressure," Bohren said. "He obviously stepped up today, and it was nice to see him show how good of a player he is while facing that type of pressure."
With the win, the Cougars improve to 4-1 overall, while Grand Canyon drops to 7-2. Azusa Pacific is back on the road Saturday, visiting Vanguard at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center in a Golden State Athletic Conference match.