MOBILE, Ala.-- The Azusa Pacific men’s tennis team claimed the program’s second national championship, holding on for a 5-3 win over Fresno Pacific behind an impressive all-around performance and one stubborn freshman. With the Cougars watching their 4-3 lead slip through the cracks Jan Meyer took center stage, overcoming a first set loss and a pair of breaks to rally from a 4-2 hole to clinch the NCCAA title with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory just before his teammates stormed the court at the Mobile Bay Convention Center.
Meyer, who severely hurt his ankle at the Pacific West Championships, hobbled through a 6-4 opening set loss to Marco Gabriel. But the rookie refused to go down and found his rhythm in the second, winning 6-3 before a see-saw third set at center court caught every eye in the convention center.
In the third Gabriel jumped out to a 4-2 lead, and with Fresno Pacific winning on the two remaining courts it seemed like the championship was the Sunbirds’ for the taking. Meyer, however, broke Gabriel twice to make it 5-5, and with neither player backing down in a game that saw five deuces Meyer seized the lead on a cross-court winner before holding serve to give the Cougars their first national title since 2005.
“It was crazy. I think we broke each other five times in the final set. We were both really tired, and it was really intense. There was a lot of pressure because I saw that we had lost the first sets on the other two courts,” said Meyer. “It was definitely not easy. I saw the other guy cramping and getting more and more tired and it gave me hope over the third set. The final point was ridiculous, he kept running cross court and returning it, and I just hoped that I could hit it in.”
Meyer’s victory ensured that each of the six Cougars had a hand in the championship win, with the other five players either helping in a doubles win or posting a singles victory.
“I don’t think I’ve been as impressed with a group of guys. In such a long championship match everyone stepped up. This feels just as good as winning the championship in 2005, and in some ways it’s better because it was against our arch rival. I have a ton of respect for Fresno Pacific, they battled to the very end and could have easily won the match. I was really proud of the guys,” said head coach Mark Bohren.
“It was back and forth, and could have went their way. You would think as a coach the stress level should go down as you get older, but it seems to get worse unfortunately. It was such an exciting, nerve-racking match. Jan was so impressive. Coming back from that ankle injury, losing in Hawaii, and having to wait to play is so hard, so coming out and performing like that... I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
And while Meyer’s dramatic win captured the championship, Azusa Pacific got signature performances from every one of its players. Frederik Wilkens and Whitman Hough dug themselves in an early hole in doubles play, trailing 5-2 to a Michael Tymkiw and Amarit Sanchez team that they’d never beaten.
But the duo calmly rose to the challenge, winning the next three games to tie it at 5-5, and in the ensuing game Hough and Wilkens overcame a 40-love hole to break the Sunbirds and grab a 6-5 advantage before giving Azusa Pacific a 2-1 lead after doubles with an 8-6 victory. Hough and Wilkens finished the NCCAA tournament with a 4-0 mark at No. 2 doubles.
Jochem Hoefnagels added to the drama at No. 1 singles, falling behind after a rough 6-1 loss in the first set. The senior, however, flipped the switch, winning 12 of the next 14 games to post a 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 win to put the Cougars up 3-2.
“I was really disappointed with the way I played in the first set. We’ve played so many times over the years. He’s beaten me, and luckily I’ve beaten him a few more times. I knew that on any day I could beat him and that gave me confidence. I tried some new tactics and played more consistent and before I knew it I was up 5-0 in the third set. It felt good to get the point for the team,” said the senior who earned all-tournament honors in doubles and singles.
“It’s the best way to finish off the season, and my career at Azusa Pacific. To go out with a win, and a national championship is really rare. I’m just so happy, it’s the best feeling.”
Ben Eger, who Bohren calls one of the best big-match players he’s ever coached, continued his postseason success with a crucial straight-sets victory against Tymkiw at No. 3. And even though the junior won in two, he couldn’t help but follow his team’s lead by making it interesting by coming back from a 40-love hole to win five consecutive points in the final game of his 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win. Eger now boasts a 4-1 all-time record in the national tournament (NAIA/NCCAA), and hasn’t dropped a postseason match since his freshman season.
Eger also teamed with Gary Yam for another beatdown in doubles, defeating Stefan Look and Gabriel 8-1. In the team’s four doubles wins of the tournament its won by scores of 8-0 twice, and 8-1 twice.
Fresno Pacific won at No. 1 doubles, and registered wins at No. 2 and No. 5 singles, while leading by a set at No. 6 before Meyer clinched the victory, which gives the Cougars three wins in the same season over Fresno Pacific for the first time in program history. Azusa Pacific went 5-0 in the NCCAA tournament, racking up a 25-4 record in its five matches.
The championship marks Azusa Pacific’s fifth NCCAA title of the 2012-13 season, with the Cougars collecting championships in women’s cross country, men’s indoor track, and men’s and women’s outdoor track.
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Jan Meyer's Final Point, filmed by women's tennis player Danae Ingwaldson