Western New Mexico ends Mavs' run at RMAC tennis championships
It’s almost cruel the way the NCAA rules dictate play in that all tennis matches stop once a team winner is determined in tournament play.
Case in point: Sunday during the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championships at the Elliott Tennis Center. The only two seniors on Colorado Mesa’s men’s team were about to wrap up victories at No. 5 and No. 6 singles.
Just before that, though, Western New Mexico claimed victory at No. 2 singles, and just moments later, at No. 1, giving the Mustangs the needed five matches to win the title 5-0.
Match — and, in Brason Hollabaugh’s and Andres Hernandez’s case, career — over.
“A senior and I’m one game away after a 2 1/2-hour match and they call it,” Hollabaugh said. “The kid doesn’t even shake my hand, he just runs off the court. What a way to end it.”
The Mustangs claimed the automatic berth to the regional tournament in both men’s and women’s tennis.
Western New Mexico’s women beat Colorado Mesa 5-2 earlier in the day.
In the men’s dual, the Mavericks couldn’t get the service break they needed in nearly every match.
Hollabaugh, playing No. 5 singles, split sets with Francisco Damasio and was up 5-1 when the Mustangs clinched the team title.
Hernandez won a first-set tiebreaker and was serving for the No. 6 singles matchup 5-2 against Roy Ulibarri when the match ended.
“Singles were ridiculously close,” CMU coach Dan MacDonald said. “We were winning at 5 and 6, match point at 6 and up 5-1 at 5. Four was going three sets. Jordan (Lyden) and Spencer (Weinberg) lost tiebreakers. I think there were four tiebreakers in singles.”
The Mustangs won three close doubles matches to put the pressure on Colorado Mesa, which had to win five of six singles matches to advance to regionals.
At one point, the Mavs were threatening to do just that, leading in four matches, with Hernandez on serve in his.
“You just have to clear your head completely, get over it,” Hollabaugh said of the quick move from doubles to singles. “They were close and we had a chance to win all five, but it doesn’t always happen. I think everyone bounced back and had really good singles matches.”
The Mustangs won crucial first-set tiebreakers at No. 1 and No. 2 singles.
Juan Pablo Fuentes won his tiebreaker at No. 2 singles over Weinberg and went on to win the match 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 for a 4-0 team lead.
Only a few minutes later, Rodrigo Almeida won the No. 1 singles match over Lyden 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 to clinch the title.
“Credit to Western New Mexico, they’re well-coached and they played well,” MacDonald said. “Regular-season champs, they came to play. We battled in both the men’s and women’s.”
Almeida and Fuentes won a great doubles match, 8-6 over Lyden and Weinberg, with everyone at the Elliott Tennis Center gathered around the court.
“It was a battle,” MacDonald said. “We just couldn’t get a break point. I think they were 1 for 10 on break points. “Credit Western New Mexico, they came up with some big serves and big points when they needed to.”
In the women’s championship dual, Mesa’s No. 2 doubles team of Kristyn Wykert and Skyler Nelson rallied from 7-2 down to win 9-8 (7-5) to enter singles with the Mavs down 2-1.
Ganna Turina won her No. 1 singles match over the Mavs’ Kaylee Davis 6-0, 6-1 for a 3-1 lead, but Emily Dodson won her No. 5 singles match and the Mavericks had a chance.
However, Ashley Newell won a three-setter over Mesa’s Shannen McNamara at No. 2 singles and Marie Monier clinched it at No. 4 singles with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Rachel McLaughlin.
Despite the abrupt end to the season, MacDonald knows there’s a silver lining.
His top four singles players on the men’s team are freshmen or sophomores, and the Mavs lose only two off the women’s roster, Nicole Lessley (No. 6 singles) and Nelson (No. 2 doubles).
The Mavericks will host the RMAC championships again next spring.
“We’re young, that’s the good thing,” MacDonald said. “We had a great year overall, I couldn’t be prouder. They battled hard all year. We’ve got a lot to build on.”
And, he said, the young Mavericks will be tournament-tested in 2014.
“A good test run, that’s a good way to look at it,” MacDonald said. “A point here, a point there. That’s the way it is in any sport.”