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Red-Hot Cougars Douse Flames

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May 18, 2011
Joe Reinsch
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MOBILE, Ala. -- A 3-week layoff kept Azusa Pacific rested rather than rusty, as the No. 4-seeded Cougars took just 2 hours and 29 minutes to dispatch No. 13-seeded Lee (Tenn.) University with a 5-0 result in Wednesday’s second round of the 2011 NAIA Women’s Tennis National Championship.

After winning 5 Golden State Athletic Conference matches to close out the regular season that included wins over 3 Top 10-ranked programs by a combined 22-5 margin, Azusa Pacific didn’t miss a beat, scoring a doubles sweep and a pair of quick singles victories for the 5-0 victory. The win advances the Cougars into the NAIA quarterfinals for the seventh time in the past 8 seasons, and it gives Azusa Pacific a 20-4 overall record for its first 20-win season since 2006. The Cougars are 1 of 4 GSAC teams remaining in the tournament, taking on No. 5-seeded Oklahoma Christian in a 1 p.m. matchup in Thursday’s quarterfinals.

“This team has really been on a roll,” Cougar head coach Mark Bohren said. “Lee was a good opponent today, but our seniors played incredibly well and for their first time out, our young players also played great. We’re on a roll, there’s no doubt about that, and it’s going to get tougher tomorrow and hopefully (a win means) it can be even tougher after that in the later rounds.”

Senior Casey Wetzig and freshman Emily Harris provided the singles points, winning by identical 6-1, 6-0 scores. Wetzig wrapped up her win first, followed just minutes later by Harris’ match-clinching victory. Azusa Pacific led in 3 of the remaining 4 singles matches that were not finished.

In doubles, the Cougars posted 8-4 wins at the No. 2 and 3 positions, with the No. 3 tandem of junior Natalie McNall and freshman Molly Ruby posting the first doubles win. Wetzig and junior Leah Hoffee quickly followed with their 4-game win at No. 2.

The No. 1 doubles match that went to a set tiebreaker tied at 8 games apiece, senior Sheryl Bon-Bakalov and Harris never trailed in the 7-point tiebreaker. With the tiebreaker tied at 3-3, Bon-Bakalov delivered a strong backhand from the baseline that Lee’s Emily Orist was unable to return. On the next point, Bon-Bakalov fired 3 consecutive backhands that Lee finally returned wide to give the Cougars a 5-3 edge. The teams traded double-faults, and another Lee shot went wide on match point, giving Azusa Pacific’s top doubles team 4 of the final 5 points in a 7-4 tiebreaker for a 9-8 win that completed the doubles sweep.

“Two and three doubles played extremely well, and one doubles is always tough so it was nice to see it go in our favor today,” Bohren said. “The doubles sweep really helped the players relax and play well in singles after that.”

At the top of the singles lineup, Bon-Bakalov and McNall each won their opening sets, and Bon-Bakalov followed her 6-4 win at the top singles position by taking a 2-0 lead in the second set when the match ended. McNall was a 6-3 winner in the No. 2 singles opening set and was a point away from tying the second set at 2-2. Freshman Kim Koetterheinrich was a game away from winning a hard-fought opening set, ending the match with a 6-5 lead.

Lee, which collected its first-ever national tournament win with Tuesday’s 9-0 first-round victory over Indiana Southeast, finishes the season with a 10-6 record.