MOBILE, Ala.-- Azusa Pacific, playing in its 13th straight NAIA Tennis National Championship Tournament, is no stranger to the postseason. But after a trio of underclassmen helped 5th ranked Azusa Pacific move past 11th ranked Shorter (Ga.) with a 5-2 win, advancing to the quarterfinals for the third consecutive season, the postseason may just have to get acquainted with a few young faces. The Cougars, who have a 15-12 championship record since 2000, took a 2-1 lead in doubles play, before freshman Danae Ingwaldson capped off Azusa Pacific’s victory with her first career postseason win.
Three underclassmen notched points in singles play, with Ingwaldson, Emily Harris, and Kim Koetterheinrich helping the Cougars to a Thursday rematch with an Oklahoma Christian team that Azusa Pacific beat 5-3 in last year’s quarterfinal.
“It was a team effort, everyone played well. If we’re going to continue to win it’s going to have to be a team effort,” said head coach Mark Bohren. “Our girls felt pretty confident going into singles and they played really experienced tennis today.”
In the win, which brought Bohren to within two of 600 career wins as the men’s and women’s coach, Azusa Pacific recovered from a marathon doubles loss at that took nearly two hours (1:52 to be exact) in the grueling heat and humidity. The No. 1 team of Harris and Ingwaldson, ranked 15th nationally, went up early on 9th ranked Candice Laurent and Auriele Gaborit, taking a quick 3-0 lead. Shorter (21-9), however, responded with six straight games to make it a 6-3 contest before the Cougars fought back to take a 7-6 advantage with four in a row. But the Hawks broke Azusa Pacific and took a 9-7 win to prevent a doubles shutout.
Natalie Mcnall and Molly Ruby posted the first win of the day, defeating Iesha Holton and Margot Vetter 8-3 at No. 2 just before Leah Hoffee and Koetterheinrich nabbed an 8-2 win at No. 3. The victory was Koetterheinrich’s 17th straight doubles victory, keeping her record perfect on the year.
In singles play Shorter’s Laurent (ranked 12th) posted the first win, defeating No. 23 McNall 6-0, 6-2 to bring the Hawks within one. Harris (No. 49), who was named the ITA/NAIA 2012 West Player to Watch earlier in the week, seemed to have no lingering affects following a two-hour doubles match, giving the Cougars their first singles win with a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Gaborit. The victory was Harris’ 13th in a row dating back to a three-set defeat against Grand Canyon (Ariz.) back on February 24th, which was her only loss of the season.
Following Harris’ two-set sweep Koetterheinrich, who had played in just 11 singles contests coming into the tournament, had no trouble filling in for injured Nakieta Hein, registering a 6-1, 6-0 win at No. 6 to put the Cougars ahead 4-2. Ingwaldson, who was honored as the 2012 NAIA/ITA West Rookie of the Year, then sealed things with a 6-4, 6-2 win, showing no signs that she was playing in her first championship tournament match.
Hoffee was leading 7-6, 1-2 when the match was finished, while Ruby was holding onto a 6-4, 2-5 lead before the result. With the win Azusa Pacific moves on to play a familiar foe in No. 4 Oklahoma Christian tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. (CDT), meeting in the quarters for the second straight year.
“I was really happy with our girls. Kim hasn’t played a lot of singles this year and I thought she played well. Danae had a tough doubles loss and then I thought really played well in singles today to finish the match for us. We’re pretty loose and we’re having fun,” said Bohren. “Last year was a really tough match with Oklahoma Christina., so we’ll see what transpires tomorrow.”
Last season McNall and Harris posted wins against the Eagles, while Hoffee was in the midst of a three-set battle when the match ended with the Cougars holding on for a 5-3 win.
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