|No. 23 Penn State Edges No. 50 UNCW, 4-2|
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia – No. 23 Penn State stormed back after losing the doubles point to win at the top four singles positions and defeat No. 50 UNCW, 4-2, in a first-round pairing of the NCAA Men’s Tennis Regionals early Saturday at the University of Virginia’s Snyder Tennis Center.
The Seahawks, two-time Colonial Athletic Association defending champions, had a nine-match winning streak halted and closed out the season with a 15-7 record after battling 11 nationally-ranked opponents this spring. Penn State, 22-5, moves on to face top-seeded Virginia for the opportunity to play in the Sweet Sixteen.
“I’m very proud of how our team competed today,” said Mait DuBois, UNCW’s seventh-year head coach and the 2014 CAA Coach-of-the-Year. “We put ourselves in a position to win the match. It was a very quality tennis match and it just came down to a couple points that went Penn State’s way.”
In a tightly contested match, UNCW grabbed control early with victories at No. 1 and No. 3 doubles before Penn State used strong singles play to come from behind for the win. The teams completed doubles and had a few games under their belt before inclement weather caused a 90-minute rain delay and forced the two teams inside to the Boyd Tinsley Courts at the Boar’s Head Sports Club to complete the match.
In doubles, UNCW’s No. 3 team of Zach Hublitz and Christiaan Van der Burgh edged Matt Barry and Roman Trkuja, 8-6, and the top tandem of Rafael Aita and Sam Williams upset No. 26 Russell Bader and Leonard Stakhovsky, 8-7 (0), for a 1-0 lead in the match.
But the Nittany Lions roared back in singles to stay alive. Bader defeated UNCW senior Pedro Mol, 6-2, 6-2, at No. 2 singles to even the match and Matt Barry topped UNCW’s Kaue Pereira, 6-3, 6-1, at the No. 4 position for a 2-1 advantage.
PSU’s Alex Fennell extended the margin to 3-1 by beating Williams, 6-4, 6-1, at No. 3 singles before UNCW sophomore Christiaan Van der Burgh sliced into the lead with a 6-4, 7-5 decision over Nika Dolidze.
Stakhovsky, ranked 37th by the ITA, then rallied from behind twice to outlast Aita, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, at No. 1 singles to clinch the match.
“It was a tough transition to indoors, but I thought we handled it well,” said DuBois. “It was only the third time this season that we played inside. We came out a little big flat in singles. When we made the move indoors, we got some momentum back.”
Aita, from Lima, Peru, was up a break at 4-2 and 5-4 against Stakhovsky, but the PSU netter rallied back in the entertaining match. Aita, who will compete in the NCAA Singles Championships, owns a 14-5 singles record and 64 career wins, second all-time at UNCW.
“It was a real pleasure to play here in front of about 300 fans. Most of them were Virginia fans who just like to watch good tennis. It was a great college tennis environment today.”
It marked the fifth NCAA appearance for the Seahawks in the last six years and their fourth consecutive trip to the tournament. UNCW now stands 1-5 in NCAA Tournament matches.
“I’m very proud of the strides we made from the fall to this point in the spring,” DuBois noted. “This team has come a long way and I’m very, very proud of how they competed today. The worst thing is saying goodbye to our three seniors and the fact that we won’t be able to play another match together.”
In last year’s tournament, UNCW upset No. 18 South Carolina in the first round, 4-0, before falling to No. 9 Duke, 4-0, at Ambler Tennis Stadium in Durham.