MOBILE, Ala.-- Postseason matches aren’t supposed to be easy, especially in the second round. Apparently nobody told that to Azusa Pacific as the 4th ranked Cougars ran through 13th ranked Aquinas (Mich.) with a two and a half hour, 5-0 blanking of the Saints. Azusa Pacific (20-2), which hasn’t played in nearly a month, showed no rust, rattling off three decisive doubles wins before taking the first two singles contests to clinch the win.
“It’s such a relief to get through the first round. You never know what’s going to happen because you don’t get a chance to see all of the teams. It really feels good when you win here, said head coach Mark Bohren< who now sits at 599 career wins between the men’s and women’s programs at Azusa Pacific.
The Cougars’ top-two players set the tone right off the bat as Janosch Apelt and Jochem Hoefnagels,ranked No. 5 nationally, disposed of 24th ranked Nik Artaev and Aaron Hendricks in short order, posting an 8-1 victory in No. 1 doubles for their 14th consecutive victory.
Following their win Ben Eger and Ilja Ikonnikov recorded an 8-3 victory over John Telfer and Peter Tratt before Gary Yam and Frederik Wilkens made it a 3-0 match with a score of 8-6 against Kyle Masteller and Travis Wolf. Needing just two wins to advance to the quarterfinals Azusa Pacific got a pair of quick victories from Ikonnikov and Wilkens, preserving not only a shutout, but much needed rest in the Alabama heat and humidity going into tomorrow’s showdown with No. 5 Auburn-Montgomery.
“We played really well today. Everyone played well today and there was not one downside to this match. The good thing is that we didn’t have to expand a lot of energy to do it, so the whole team should be fresh tomorrow,” said Bohren.
Ikonnikov, who improved his postseason record to 4-2 between doubles and singles with today’s wins, had an impressive showing, dropping just one game in a two-set sweep (6-0, 6-1) of Telfer at No. 5.
“He’s really ready for nationals. He’s giving everything he has. He’s practiced really well and is in great shape. It was great to see him get a point today,” said Bohren of Ikonnikov.
After the senior made it a 4-0 match the Cougars needed just one more point to seal their 26th postseason win since 2000 and with a slew of players holding on to sizeable leads it would be Wilkens who played the clincher. The sophomore from Germany, who is ranked 34th nationally, ran out to a 6-0 start, and despite a late season-saving effort from Wolf, sealed the victory with a 60, 6-2 win at No. 3.
At the time of the win Apelt was cruising, even after falling behind 3-0 in the first set. The 4th ranked senior, and 3-time all-American, led 6-4, 1-2 when the match ended, keeping his winning streak at nine matches. On court two No. 18 Hoefnagels, who earned NAIA/ITA National Player to Watch recognition on Monday, was well on his way to his 25th consecutive win, holding on to a 6-4, 4-2 when Wilkens ended things. And while neither he nor Apelt recorded a singles win on the day, they will undoubtedly be relied on for the rest if the tournament.
“Janosch is the key. We’re going to need him to do really well and I was happy to see that he didn’t have ti use a lot of energy today,” said Bohren. “Jochem is playing so well right now. There aren’t any matches but he plays so confident. He’s such a good leader and his winning streak has been very impressive.”
At No. 4 Eger was eagerly waiting to register his first postseason singles victory, ending the day with a 6-4, 3-4 edge over Masteller, while Yam was looking to record his first NAIA Tournament win, leading 6-3, 3-1 when the match ended.
With today’s win the Cougars earned a spot in the quarterfinals against an all-too familiar foe in Auburn Montgomery. Azusa Pacific and the Warhawks, who have won nine NAIA championships, have made more NAIA semifinals appearances than any other programs in the nation, and faced off in three title matches in the middle of the last decade with Auburn Montgomery coming away with wins in all-three contests. Azusa Pacific, however, did go through the Warhawks in the semifinals before claiming its only national championship in 2005.
“It seems like every time we’re here they’re in the mix. It should be one of those matches tomorrow, but if we play well I like our chances, said Bohren.
The last time the two programs met was in 2010 when Auburn Montgomery came away with a 5-2 in the semifinals.
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