SURPRISE, Ariz. - The No. 2-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State University women's tennis team claimed its NCAA Division II-leading eighth national championship with a 5-2 win over No. 3 BYU Hawaii on Saturday afternoon at the Surprise Racquet & Tennis Club in Surprise, Ariz.
The Pirates (30-1) successfully defended their 2012 title by knocking off the Seasiders (30-2), who they also downed in last season's match. The two DII women's tennis powerhouses came into the championship match holding seven national titles apiece and it was the seventh time in each program's history that the two titans had met in the National Championship match.
Armstrong took a 2-1 lead in doubles play by taking the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles matches. The No. 5-ranked duo of Marlen Hacke and Olga Kalodzitsa downed No. 9-ranked Marika Kobayashi and Marietta Tuionetoa, 8-3, at No. 2 doubles, while Clara Perez and Natasa Vukovic defeated Jade Griffin and Sasha Ulbrichtova, 8-5, at No. 3 doubles.
"Doubles was the same numbers as last year," Armstrong head coach Simon Earnshaw said about the win today. "But it was not really the same because No. 2 doubles made a much beter start than last year. We came out this morning and completely changed what we had done all year at No. 3 doubles - switching from playing doubles to playing to our strength in singles, and we made a great start and it was enough to get us through."
BYU Hawaii put the pressure on in singles play by taking the first set in five of six singles matches. The Seasiders drew even in the match as No. 2-ranked Annie Hwang defeated No. 3-ranked Aleksandra Filipovski, 6-1, 6-1, at No. 1 singles. Armstrong quickly went back in front when No. 13-ranked Barbora Krtickova finished off Marika Kobayashi, 6-2, 7-6 (1), at No. 3 singles.
With every other match in the third set or beginning the third set, Natasa Vukovic brought the Pirates to within one point of victory with an 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Jade Griffin at No. 6 singles. All attention turned to court No. 4 where No. 17-ranked Marlen Hacke beat Marietta Tuionetoa, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 to clinch the victory - similar to the 2012 match where the Pirates also won at No. 4 singles to claim the title.
"Singles was completely different - last year we made an awesome start, but this year it was opposite," Earnshaw said. "It was almost like we spotted them a set in this year's final. The second sets and the conclusion of the match was similar to last year, except for the fact that Marlen had a large lead. Olga's tiebreak was like Kathleen's. We got out of some close second sets last year. It was all very important for the overall win. We really had to earn this one - BYU Hawaii played a great match and were, as usual, a worthy opponent in the final. For us to overtake them [for the overall lead in NCAA DII women's tennis titles] it was fitting that we had to beat them."
Armstrong has now won five of the last six NCAA Division II National Championships, collecting the crowns in 1995, 1996, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and this season.
"Today's matches and this tournament are a reflection of what we are doing with our program," Earnshaw said. "We keep fighting and never give up. We push their limits and certainly these last few days with the draws that we have, that was the case and responded extremely well. In the circumstances, I feel like we won both matches [men's and women's]. No matter the outcome, it shows we are doing the right things and our kids are invested in the program and the university."
Both the men's and women's tennis teams will return to Savannah from Surprise, Arizona, on Sunday at 5:22 p.m. at the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport