MOBILE, Ala.-- It may be a new tournament, but for the Azusa Pacific men’s tennis team it was business as usual. The Cougars, competing in the same venue that they’ve won 20 postseason matches over the past 10 years at the NAIA national championship tournament, had no trouble adjusting to the National Christian College Athletics Association scene, registering a pair of convincing victories to open up pool play in the national championships at the Mobile Tennis Center in Mobile, Ala.
Azusa Pacific kicked off the tournament with a 5-0 victory against Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.) and followed that up with a 5-1 defeat of McMurry (Texas).
“It was a great first day. The guys competed really well, and we’re seeing everyone getting closer to 100 percent health-wise,” said head coach Mark Bohren. “It’s really nice to play in Mobile. We’ve become so used to it and know exactly what to expect. We knows it’s going to be hot and humid, and we’ve got all of the preparation down pat so that we can stay strong. It’s great to know the area, the playing surface... there are a lot of little things that give us an advantage, and while we aren’t the only ones, it helps the players to feel relaxed.”
The winning helps too, and for the Cougars, that came quickly in the opening victory against Roberts Wesleyan. Azusa Pacific swept through doubles play, and notched two quick wins in singles to tab a two-hour win over the Redhawks. Whitman Hough and Frederik Wilkens kicked things off with an 8-2 win before Jochem Hoefnagels and Jan Meyer posted an 8-1 defeat of Charles Farres and Sam Thorold at No. 1. Ben Eger and Gary Yam gave the Cougars a 3-0 lead with an 8-1 win.
In singles Eger put Azusa Pacific ahead 4-0 with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Farres, and 14th ranked Hoefnagels sealed the win with a 6-1, 6-0 defeat of Beka Buchukuri at No. 1. Hough was leading 6-1, 2-1, and Wilkens was on top 6-2, 1-0 when the match was finished.
In the second match Azusa Pacific held off a hot McMurry start, escaping doubles with a 2-1 lead. The Warhawks took the first point of the match, beating Daniel Sosnowski and Eger 8-5, and the Cougars struck back with an 8-5 win from Hough and Wilkens at No. 2. Then, the team of Hoefnagels and Meyer staved off a major upset with a 9-7 win over Chris Breaux and Casjen Rico at No. 1 to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead headed into singles.
Wilkens gave Azusa Pacific a 3-1 edge with an impressive 6-0, 6-1 win over Felipe Cruz, giving the junior his 18th victory of the year, and Meyer put the Cougars on the brink with a 6-1, 6-0 win at No. 4. Soon after Hoefnagels clinched the win, beating Breaux 6-0, 6-4 at No. 1. The win gave Hoefnagels his 22nd of the year, tying him with Eger and Meyer for the team-lead.
The last time Azusa Pacific had a trio of 20-match winners was in 2007. If Wilkens can post two more wins it’ll mark the first time since 2004 that the Cougars will boast four 20-match winners.
Azusa Pacific will play in the final match of pool play on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. (CDT), where the Cougars will face Indiana Wesleyan with a chance to clinch Pool A’s top-seed.