MOBILE, Ala. -- Azusa Pacific produced one of the finest regular seasons in the 13-year history of the women’s tennis program, tying the regular-season wins record with a 19-4 campaign to earn the No. 4 seed in this week’s NAIA Women’s Tennis National Championship. The 24-team national tournament kicks off at the Mobile Tennis Center on Tuesday, May 17, although the Cougars open NAIA Tournament action Wednesday after earning the first-round bye that goes with a top-8 seed. (Click here for the full tournament bracket)
Azusa Pacific will take on the winner of Tuesday’s first-round match between the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Lee (Tenn.), which snagged the final at-large berth into the tournament, and unranked Indiana Southeast, which claimed the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship for an automatic bid. Both teams are making their fourth NAIA Tournament appearances, and both are 0-3 in national tournament play entering Tuesday’s matchup.
The Cougars’ 19-win tally tied the regular-season win total of the 2004 and 2005 squads, which started a 3-year streak of NAIA semifinals including an appearance in the 2004 national title match. Azusa Pacific has also advanced to at least the quarterfinals in 6 of the past 7 seasons, including last year when the Cougars posted a 5-0 second-round win over Shorter (Ga.) but were stopped in the quarterfinals by eventual NAIA champion Fresno Pacific.
Should Azusa Pacific advance past the Lee/Indiana Southeast winner in the second round, the Cougars would face fifth-seeded Oklahoma Christian in the quarterfinals with a potential matchup against Golden State Athletic Conference rival and defending NAIA champion Fresno Pacific, the tournament’s top seed, looming in the semifinals.
Azusa Pacific has a 19-4 overall record and finished second in the GSAC with a 13-3 conference record. The Cougars won 5 straight GSAC matches in April to close out the regular season, including 3 victories over conference foes ranked in the top 10 of the final NAIA national rankings. All 3 were impressive wins, starting with a 9-0 result against No. 10 Vanguard to start the final month of the regular season before posting a 6-3 win over No. 7 Concordia just 3 days later. In the regular-season finale, Azusa Pacific knocked off Point Loma Nazarene, which was then ranked No. 3 in the NAIA but dropped to the No. 6 seed in the tournament after the loss.
The women’s tennis team also delivered a milestone victory this season for head coach Mark Bohren, who eclipsed 500 combined career wins earlier this year and was voted the ITA’s 2011 NAIA West Region Women’s Tennis Coach of the Year. Bohren, who has coached all 14 seasons of the Cougars’ women’s tennis program history and is in his 16th year as Azusa Pacific’s men’s coach, got his 500th win when the Cougar women defeated Hope International in a conference road match to start the season with a 5-match winning streak. 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.
“This is probably the most talented team we’ve had,” Bohren said. “In previous years, it seems like we started strong but would wear down towards the end of the season, but this year I think our off-court conditioning has really made a difference. We also gave them some time off right before the end of the season for their spring break, and I thought that made a difference in making us fresh at the end.”
Bohren is assisted by David Goodman and Danny Colten, and Goodman was announced as the ITA’s 2011 NAIA National Women’s Tennis Assistant Coach of the Year in an awards ceremony at Monday night’s tournament banquet.
The Golden State Athletic Conference leads all conferences with 5 schools in the championship field, and 4 of the GSAC representatives are seeded in the top 7 of the tournament. Azusa Pacific is 1 of 4 programs in the 2011 tournament field that have appeared in each of the past 12 NAIA Tournaments since the NAIA switched its national championship from an individual tournament to a team dual-match format in 2000.
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.
“We’ve had some good practices leading into the tournament,” Bohren said. “They’re healthy, and I’m looking forward to what should be a good run in this tournament.”
COUGAR SINGLES LINEUP
No. 1: Senior Sheryl Bon-Bakalov (ITA-NAIA No. 6) earned her third consecutive All-GSAC selection, and she leads off the Azusa Pacific singles lineup for the third straight year. Bon-Bakalov enters the tournament with a 13-5 singles record, including a 10-5 mark at the top singles position, and for the second straight year is playing her best tennis late in the season. A year ago, she posted back-to-back straight-set wins over 2 opponents ranked in the top 10 of the ITA’s NAIA national singles rankings to close out the regular season, and this year she collected 3 April victories over top-10 foes including a hard-fought 3-set win over Point Loma Nazarene’s Kristin Strimple, the NAIA’s No. 1-ranked singles player. Bon-Bakalov is 2-2 in career NAIA Tournament singles play, including a 6-0, 6-1 victory in last year’s tourney-opening win over Shorter (Ga.).
No. 2: Junior Natalie McNall (ITA-NAIA No. 24), a repeat All-GSAC pick, registered a 12-9 singles record in the regular season, going 10-6 at the No. 2 position. She posted a pair of 4-match winning streaks early in the campaign, and she alternated wins and losses over the final 8 matches of the season. Her best win came in the final month, when she picked up a season split against Vanguard’s Kateryna Malakhova with a 3-set win in the Cougars’ 9-0 victory on April 1. Malakhova is ranked No. 20 in the ITA singles rankings, and McNall’s April win avenged a 3-set defeat to Malakhova in the teams’ first meeting in February. McNall is 0-1 with 2 unfinished matches in her NAIA Tournament career.
No. 3: All-GSAC freshman Emily Harris (ITA-NAIA No. 31) is 1 of 4 Cougars with a singles winning percentage of .800 or better, going 16-4 on the year with a 7-1 mark at the No. 3 spot where she will compete in this week’s tournament. She won her first 6 matches at the No. 3 position this season, and her only defeat was a narrow 4-6, 7-5, 10-8 decision against Fresno Pacific’s Cristina Valladeres, who is ranked No. 30 in the ITA singles rankings. She bounced back for a straight-set win against No. 42-ranked Jessica Kwan in the 7-2 victory over Point Loma Nazarene in the regular-season finale. Harris played 5 times at No. 1 or No. 2 during the year, going 3-2 in those matches. In 35 set victories, 17 have been perfect 6-0 scores for Harris, with another 6 set wins by a 6-1 margin.
No. 4: Another newcomer to the Azusa Pacific lineup this year is freshman Kim Koetterheinrich, at the No. 4 position. A 6-foot true freshman from Germany, Koetterheinrich played at least 2 matches at each of the top 4 spots in the singles lineup during the year, posting a 9-8 record overall. She was 1-2 at No. 4, where she will be competing in this week’s NAIA Tournament, and her victory at that spot came in 3 sets against Fresno Pacific’s Yumiko Justin, who is ranked No. 48 in the ITA singles rankings.
No. 5: Junior Leah Hoffee brings a team-high 12-match winning streak and the Cougars’ best singles winning percentage (.938) into this week’s NAIA Tournament. She also represents one of Azusa Pacific’s biggest strengths, playing at a position where the Cougars were 22-1 on the year. Hoffee went 15-1 on the year, the only defeat coming in 3 sets in just the fourth match of the campaign. Since then, she has reeled off 12 straight victories, including all 7 of her wins at the No. 5 position, winning 9 times in straight sets. She won 12 of the last 13 sets she played in the regular season, including 7 straight at the end of the year by scores of 6-2 or better. Hoffee has no official career NAIA Tournament record, as all 3 singles matches she has played at the national tournament have gone unfinished.
No. 6: Senior Casey Wetzig notched a team-high 17 wins in 2011, bringing her career singles record to 51-24 as she competes in her fourth consecutive NAIA Tournament. Wetzig’s 17-2 record includes a 6-1 mark at the No. 6 position, where the Cougars are 20-3 on the season, and she brings a 5-match winning streak into the national tournament. Wetzig opened the campaign with 12 straight victories before back-to-back defeats in March, but she responded with a 6-0, 6-0 win in Azusa Pacific’s impressive 9-0 victory over Vanguard for the first of those 5 straight wins at the end of the regular season. All but 1 of Wetzig’s singles matches this year have been decided in straight sets, and 25 of her 34 set wins have been by scores of 6-2 or better. Wetzig is 1-2 in career NAIA Tournament play, picking up her first win last season in straight sets for the match-clinching victory in the Cougars’ 5-0 second-round win over Shorter (Ga.).
Others: Freshman Molly Ruby, who competes at No. 3 doubles, was 1 of 6 Cougars with double-digit singles victories on the year, going 12-2 with at least 3 matches of experience at each of the No. 4, No. 5, and No. 6 spots in the lineup. Sophomore Sarita Adhikary registered a perfect 9-0 record between the No. 5 and No. 6 positions, and sophomore Danielle Hoyme was unbeaten in 3 matches at No. 6 singles this season.
COUGAR DOUBLES LINEUP
No. 1: (Bon-Bakalov and Harris) The Cougars’ top doubles team is ranked at No. 6 in the ITA’s NAIA national doubles rankings, and 2 of their wins came in the final month of the regular season against highly-ranked tandems from Vanguard and Point Loma Nazarene. They knocked off Vanguard’s No. 5-ranked Gabriela Bergmanova/Kateryna Malakhova and Point Loma Nazarene’s No. 3-ranked Kristin Strimple/Ashley Litchfield, both by 8-6 scores. Azusa Pacific was 15-7 at the top doubles position in 2011, with Bon-Bakalov and Harris providing a 10-6 mark at that spot.
No. 2: (Hoffee and Wetzig) Hoffee and Wetzig tied for the team lead in doubles wins with a 12-3 record that included a 7-2 mark at the No. 2 spot. The pair is ranked No. 18 in the ITA’s NAIA doubles rankings, making Azusa Pacific 1 of just 6 teams in the NAIA with 2 sets of doubles ranked in the top 25 of the ITA doubles rankings. They won 4 straight matches together to close out the regular season, including an 8-6 win over the No. 23-ranked Concordia tandem of Kristin Yep and Casey O’Connor. They are 2-1 in NAIA Tournament doubles play, posting Azusa Pacific’s only doubles win in 2009 before going 1-1 in 2010 tournament play.
No. 3: (McNall and Molly Ruby) Ruby joined the doubles lineup in early March, teaming up with McNall for 8 consecutive wins together and finishing with a 12-2 season doubles record together. The pair went 7-2 at the No. 3 position, including wins in the final month of the regular season against the No. 3 teams from NAIA Top 10-ranked GSAC opponents Vanguard, Concordia, and Point Loma Nazarene. With a 5-1 record while partnered with Koetterheinrich at No. 2 doubles in February, McNall leads the Cougars in total doubles wins with 17.
ABOUT LEE: Lee (Tenn.) University, the third-place finisher in the Southern States Athletic Conference East division and a semifinalist in the SSAC Tournament, enters the tournament with a 9-5 record and picked up the final at-large bid into the tournament field. The Lady Flames were ranked No. 13 in the final NAIA poll, and they are 1 of 4 SSAC programs in this year’s tournament, joining No. 3-seeded Auburn Montgomery (Ala.), No. 8-seeded Brenau (Ga.), and No. 12-seeded William Carey (Miss.). An SSAC member has been responsible for eliminating Azusa Pacific from the national tournament in 3 of the past 7 seasons, although Brenau was unable to do so last year in a second-round matchup with the Cougars. Lee has appeared in 3 previous NAIA Tournaments (2002, 2004, 2007), but the Lady Flames are still seeking their first-ever national tournament win. Lee’s top doubles team consists of junior Kelsey Gray and sophomore Emily Orist, who are both natives of Atlanta, Ga., and are ranked No. 21 in the NAIA in the ITA’s national doubles rankings. Gray also plays at the top of Lee’s singles lineup, while Orist competes at No. 4 in singles.
ABOUT INDIANA SOUTHEAST: Indiana University Southeast was the runaway winner of the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, winning the league’s automatic bid by following up a perfect 12-0 conference campaign with a pair of 5-0 wins for the KIAC Tournament championship. The Grenadiers were 14-4 overall, bouncing back from an 0-2 start with a 12-match winning streak. Indiana Southeast’s conference competes in the fall, and the Grenadiers wrapped up the league title by the end of October. At the beginning of April, in its only match of the entire spring, Indiana Southeast suffered a 6-3 loss to the NAIA’s No. 21-ranked Campbellsville. Five members of the 6 players in the Grenadiers’ singles lineup made the All-KIAC team. Like Lee, Indiana Southeast is also competing in its fourth NAIA Tournament, and the program is also seeking its first national tournament win. The Grenadiers picked up 1 point in their 8-1 first-round loss to U.S. International in 2001, and they were blanked 9-0 in back-to-back first-round defeats to Xavier (La.) and Point Loma Nazarene in 2005 and 2006.
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.