For the second-consecutive season, the McMurry University men’s tennis team has reached the semi-finals of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) championship tournament at the Copeland-Cox Tennis Center. In its final pool play match Wednesday morning, McM topped nationally-ranked Palm Beach Atlantic, 5-1.
McMurry will take on Roberts Wesleyan College (N.Y.) in its semifinal match on Thursday (9 a.m.). The winner will face the winner of the Azusa Pacific University (Pool A No. 1 seed) and Palm Beach Atlantic match for the title on Friday (May 9/9 a.m.).
The win over the Sailfish – the No. 44 team in the nation for NCAA Division II - upped the War Hawks’ season record to 13-11 overall and was the team’s fourth-consecutive and sixth win in the past seven matches. The win also made the War Hawks the #1-seed from Pool B play entering the semis. (Last season, the War Hawks lost once in pool play and had to face eventual national champ, Fresno Pacific, in the semifinals as the pool’s runner-up, losing 5-1).
"I'm so proud of these guys and the senior leadership that we have,” McM head coach Mark Hathorn said. “It's like having more coaches on our team.
“Palm Beach Atlantic was very good, but we were so focused and jumped on all of the doubles so quickly this morning. We have played extremely well in doubles all tournament. This was the first match also against a nationally-ranked team that we won all of our first sets in singles.”
The War Hawks took a 2-1 lead in the team score after doubles and looked to be in position to sweep the trio of matches. McM got dominating wins at both Nos. 2 and 3 bouts. At second doubles, Felipe Cruz and Dani Perez defeated PBAU’s Mark Heimberger and Nicholas Battistini, 8-3. Third doubles had a similar outcome for McMurry, as the senior tandem of Preston Steblein and Cristiano Mendes rolled past the Sailfish duo of Asti Adams and Matt Leeds by an 8-4 score.
At No. 1 doubles, the McM team of Chris Breaux and Casjen Rico suffered an infrequent loss, falling to Palm Beach Atlantic’s team of Romain Nowaczyk and Nicolas Uryson, 9-7, the 19th-ranked doubles team in the nation. Breaux and Rico led the match 4-0, but could not fend off the comeback bid.
That left McMurry needing just a split in the six singles matches to gain the team victory. At No. 1 singles, Cruz crushed Nowaczyk, who was also rated No. 50 in the country for singles, by scores of 6-2, 6-0.
At No. 5 singles, Rico earned his team-leading 20th victory (20-4) of the season with his straight-sets win over Battisini, 6-1, 7-5. Mendes, playing No. 6 singles, was the third point needed by McM, topping Leeds in convincing fashion, 6-1, 6-0, and making the team tally, 5-1.
Hathorn doesn’t think it is an accident that his McMurry squad is peaking right now.
“Our schedule was so hard this year that it prepared us for these kinds of matches,” Hathorn explained. “It helps that this whole team has been here before (in 2013). I brought 11 guys because the freshmen and sophomores will be the ones playing here next year again, hopefully, if we make it.
Tomorrow’s matchup versus Roberts Wesleyan will be a rematch of a 2013 pool play match for the last semifinal spot. McM won the contest, 5-1, and sent the Redhawks home from the tourney.
“I want the same intensity against Roberts Wesleyan in the morning,” Hathorn explained. “We can't look past them; they are very good. I look forward to the challenge.
“It's a great accomplishment to get to the semi-finals two years in a row and we want to win for this group of seniors."
McMurry University 5, #44 Palm Beach Atlantic University 1 May 07, 2014 at Mobile, Ala. (Copeland-Cox Tennis Center) Singles competition
1. Felipe Cruz (MCMMT) def. #50 Romain Nowaczyk (PBAM) 6-2, 6-0
2. Nicolas Uryson (PBAM) vs. Chris Breaux (MCMMT) 4-6, 0-3, unfinished
3. Mark Heimberger (PBAM) vs. Preston Steblein (MCMMT) 3-6, 4-2, unfinished
4. Asti Adams (PBAM) vs. Dani Perez (MCMMT) 5-7, 1-2, unfinished
5. Casjen Rico (MCMMT) def. Nicholas Battistini (PBAM) 6-1, 7-5
6. Cristiano Mendes (MCMMT) def. Matt Leeds (PBAM) 6-1, 6-0
1. #19 Romain Nowaczyk/Nicolas Uryson (PBAM) def. Chris Breaux/Casjen Rico (MCMMT) 9-7
2. Felipe Cruz/Dani Perez (MCMMT) def. Mark Heimberger/Nicholas Battistini (PBAM) 8-3
3. Preston Steblein/Cristiano Mendes (MCMMT) def. Asti Adams/Matt Leeds (PBAM) 8-4
McMurry University 13-11; Regional ranking #8
Palm Beach Atlantic University 14-11; National ranking #44; Regional ranking #10
National Christian College Athletic Association Championships- pool play round
Information for this story provided by McMurry Athletics.