AASU Wins Third Straight Title
Courtesy: Armstrong Atlantic State Athletics
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. - Senior Gabriella Kovacs has this repeat thing down.
A year ago here in Sanlando Park, her three-set thriller clinched Armstrong Atantic State's 2009 NCAA DII National Championship. On Saturday, Kovacs finished off BYU-Hawai'i's Shawni Porter in straight sets to give top-ranked and undefeated AASU its third consecutive NCAA Division II Women's Tennis National Championship, 5-1 over the Seasiders.
The Lady Pirates (33-0) joined an exclusive group of schools to ever win three consecutive DII national women's tennis titles - Chattanooga (1983-85), SIU Edwardsville (1986-89) and Saturday's opponent, BYU-Hawaii (2002-04). The title is also the sixth in the history of AASU women's tennis, second-most in NCAA DII history.
Kovacs and her fellow seniors - Martina Beckmann and Alisa Kagukina - form a core group who, along with junior Alida Muller-Wehlau, have won three straight NCAA DII National Championships for the Lady Pirates.
"We've had all these great players, but sometimes the national championships have straddled generations," head coach Simon Earnshaw said. "Sometimes you're lucky to get only one, but this group has managed to put three in a row together. If you think about the first year when they were here and compare that to what they've been able to accomplish, it's a great testament to what hard work and a belief in what team effort will do."
Beckmann and Muller-Wehlau got the match off to a successful start for AASU by winning a pivotal doubles point as play began. Kovacs and Novakova, ranked No. 7 in the nation in doubles, began with an 8-4 win at No. 2 doubles over No. 24-ranked Ayako Ikeda and Shawni Porter. BYU-Hawai'i answered with an 8-2 win by Jenny Chin and Salina Aranda over No. 23-ranked Kathleen Henry and Tina Ronel.
That set up Beckmann and Muller-Wehlau, ranked No. 3 in the nation in doubles and facing the No. 1-ranked BYU-Hawai'i duo of Yuan Jia and Elwin Li. The German duo won three straight points at 5-all to claim an 8-5 win and give AASU a key 2-1 advantage heading into singles play.
"I was confident once we won No. 1 doubles," Earnshaw said. "I felt before the match that if we could get either No. 1 or No. 3 doubles, we would be in good shape. The 5-all game with Martina and Alida was key - and I think it was the biggest game of the match. And the extra work both put into their service game this year paid off."
As singles play began, the Lady Pirates got off to a fast start, winning four of the first six sets. First to finish was No. 49-ranked Henry, who claimed a 6-2, 6-4 win over Sophia Simmons at No. 6 singles. No. 21-ranked Ronel beat Ikeda, 6-1, 6-3, about five minutes later.
Kovacs was already in her match-finishing game when Ronel's match ended, and less than two minutes later, the senior from Szazhalombatta, Hungary, finished match point against Shawni Porter, 6-2, 6-2, to give AASU the national championship for a second straight season.
The 33 wins this season for the Lady Pirates sets a new school record, eclipsing the 32 wins by the 2008 team, and during the three-year National Championship run, head coach Simon Earnshaw's Lady Pirates are an impressive 93-2.
"It's amazing when you look back now, even from 2003, how we've been able to put this together," Earnshaw said. "Realistically, if we were going to be able to win national championships over DII, we were going to have to equalize what BYU-Hawai'i has been able to accomplish since they've moved into DII. If you look back to 2003 and compare, we have been able to do that. The three national titles are a culmination, really, of the last seven years where we have only had five losses - if you keep up that level of success, the championships will come."
"We've had a lot of great players come through our program since 2000, and I think the earlier players laid the groundwork for what we have been able to accomplish these last three years."