Doubles wins help Kearney upset Mesa in Central regional

Mesa’s Kaitlin Sera, left, hits an overhead Saturday as her sister, Kelleen, watches during the sisters’ win at No. 2 doubles in the NCAA Central Regional tournament. The Mavs lost to Nebraska-Kearney 5-3.

All they could do on their trip to Grand Junction was talk about Florida.

The University of Nebraska-Kearney women’s tennis team will get to do more than talk about it now. The Lopers will get to go after defeating Mesa State College 5-3 in the NCAA Division II Central Regional tournament on Saturday at the Elliott Tennis Center. Kearney (19-6) advances to the national championship tournament next week in Altamonte Springs, Fla., for the first time in school history.

“Florida must have come up at least 20 times on our way out here,” said Kearney coach Kent Schultz, who is resigning after the season to take a job with the U.S. Tennis Association. “It’s an honor. There is a sense of achievement these girls should have. It’s important for the program to go forward. It’s a good group of girls.

The loss ended Mesa State’s season. The Mavericks finished 17-5.

Kearney set the tone for upsetting the second seed Mavericks by winning two of the three doubles matches.

The Lopers’ No. 1 duo of Mary Outhwaite and Kristen Messbarger won 8-3 and the No. 3 pair of Mizuki Takahashi and Nickola Messbarger rallied to win 8-6.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to Kearney,” Mesa coach Dan MacDonald said. “They took two of three doubles and it relaxed the kids a bit.  There were a lot of close matches. It could’ve gone either way.

“That put the pressure on our singles and it showed with Kelleen (Sera) and Kaitlan (Sera). You have to play catch up. It’s tough to do. Victoria (Sargent) had a chance to serve for the first set, but couldn’t get it. The effort was there, but we didn’t execute on a few key points.”

Mesa State appeared poised to rally in singles, like it did a month ago in a 5-4 RMAC victory over the Lopers.

Sargent started out strong, taking a 4-1 lead at No. 2 singles. Renee Demianeu and Kaitlan Sera easily took the first set in their matches at No. 3 and 4. No. 5 Kelleen Sera won her first set in a tiebreak and Kate Lowder and Mandie Divino hung close in the first set at No. 1 and 6 singles.

The momentum shifted back and forth before the matches were settled.

Kristen Messbarger rallied to defeat Sargent 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 at No. 2 singles, but Kaitlan Sera and Demianeu won to even the dual 3-3.

Demianeu defeated Marcelle Strydom 6-1, 1-6, 6-1 at No. 3 singles.

“Both times, I did the same thing,” Demianeu said. “I started strong, winning the first set, but I hit a mental wall in the second. The third set, I came back. I tried to trust my shot more.”

Kaitlan Sera survived to defeat Erickson 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 at No. 4.

  Kearney’s Nickola Messbarger gave the Lopers a 4-3 edge with a 6-4, 6-4 victory at No. 6 singles.

Kearney’s No. 1 singles player and RMAC player of the year Mary Outhwaite was able to hold on and defeat Kate Lowder 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 to clinch the team victory as Mesa’s Kelleen
Sera was closing in at No. 5 singles.

“Kate played great,” MacDonald said. “She had a game point at 4-5 (in the first set) and (Outhwaite) hit a couple great lobs. Kate came back and won the second, which is hard to do. Mary made a couple great shots.”


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