April 25, 2010
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- The Navy men's tennis team won its fourth consecutive Patriot League title by posting a 4-2 victory over Army in the championship match of the league tournament Sunday afternoon at the West Branch Tennis Club in Williamsport, Pa.
Navy has now claimed eight Patriot League crowns over the last 15 seasons. The current run of four in a row matches the success of the program from 1996-99. In each of the eight tournaments that Navy has won, the Mids have defeated Army in the finals of the championship.
"This is far and away the best feeling I have had with any title we have won," said Navy head coach John Officer. "Even though we were picked to win the league at the start of the year, this is the most inexperienced team we have had. But this is also the most improved team I have ever coached."
Navy entered the 2010 season having won seven consecutive matches over Army, a stretch that included wins in the championship match of the 2007, '08, and `09 league tournaments. However, the Black Knights ended that streak with their 4-3 victory over the Mids earlier this month in Annapolis. That result allowed Army to garner the No. 1 seed in this weekend's tournament -- and receive a quarterfinal round bye -- and drop Navy to the No. 2 seed.
Just as in the first meeting of the season between the two service academies, the doubles point on Sunday came down to the last match to be completed. First to finish was the No. 3 match where Army's Donald Van Velzer and Tripp Johnson posted an 8-4 win over Eddie Konrad (So., The Woodlands, Texas) and Jeremy New (Jr., Glen Allen, Va.). The Mids then saw their No. 1 tandem of Owen Bullard (Jr., Concord, N.C.) and Nicholas Gutsche (Fr., Sarasota, Fla.) win an 8-5 decision over Gary Kushnirovich and Rashad Shelton. That was the same result and score as when the four players squared off at No. 1 doubles in the regular season meeting between the teams.
In the previous match held on Yard, Army's No. 2 team of Chris Albornoz and John Lucero defeated Nick Birger
(Jr., Belleville, Ill.) and Ramsey Lemaich
(Sr., Danville, Calif.) by the score of 8-6. Today, Birger and Lemaich turned the tables on Albornoz and Lucero as the Mids topped the Black Knights by an identical score to secure the doubles point for Navy. The final point of the match came on a double fault by the Black Knights.
As the teams prepared to move into the singles portion of the match, the respective lineups saw five matches that would be repeats from when the programs met earlier this season. Of the four matches that were completed Sunday, in only one of them did the player who won the first meeting also win today.
Kushnirovich was a combined 0-3 on the year against Bullard. The Navy junior had bested the Army freshman in a pair of doubles matches and in a three-set singles match (2-6, 6-4, 6-3) this season. However, Kushnirovich would record a 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) victory over Bullard this afternoon to even the team score at one point apiece.
Neither Anderson Walls (Fr., Alpharetta, Ga.) from Navy nor Van Velzer were in their respective team's singles lineup when they first met in Annapolis, but they found themselves paired against each other today at No. 3 singles. Van Velzer would get the better of Walls, 6-4, 6-1, to give Army a 2-1 lead on the day.
Lucero and New would square off for the second time this month in singles. The first match between the duo saw Lucero win a 7-5, 6-1 decision at No. 3 singles. Today, New recorded a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 4 singles to even the match at two points apiece.
The first time Albornoz and Marcus Rebersak (So., Pittsburgh, Pa.) met this year, Albornoz emerged with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Rebersak. Today, Rebersak would tally a 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 victory over Albornoz to give the Mids a 3-2 lead.
For the second time in as many meetings, the match between Navy's Zach Nicholson (So., Bowie, Md.) and Army's Tripp Johnson would go to a third-set tiebreaker. Johnson came away with a 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) victory in match number one to help the Black Knights to the Star Match win. Today, Nicholson recorded a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-2) victory to give Navy its fourth league crown in as many years.
In the match that was stopped due to Navy having already recorded its fourth team point of the day, Gutsche was serving for the first set of his No. 6 singles match against Shelton with a 5-3 lead. Gutsche had won a three-set match over Shelton in the first meeting between the players.
Bullard's singles loss Sunday to Kushnirovich was his first of the tournament. He had recorded wins in each of his three doubles matches and had posted straight-set singles wins over foes from both Holy Cross and Bucknell on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Despite his setback today, Bullard's 5-1 record on the weekend allowed him to be tabbed as the Tournament's Most Valuable Player.
"Owen played number six singles last year, but he played number one for us this year," said Officer. "Marcus had a tough freshman season at number two singles last year as a freshman, but he had a better one this year for us at the same position. The rest of our lineup consists of guys who were either subs last year (New and Nicholson) or are freshmen this season (Gutsche and Walls). To have a team with this little experience come away with a title is an amazing story."
In addition to winning the league crown, today's win by the tennis team also clinches the Army-Navy series victory for the Mids. With potentially three meetings between the service academies still to be played, the Mids hold a 16-12 advantage over the Black Knights. Navy has won the series over Army in 17 of the last 18 years and is 36-2-1 in the annual series over the last 39 years.
Navy now awaits the May 4 announcement of the NCAA Tournament bracket. The first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament will be contested May 14-16 at sites to be determined.
"We know we are going to play someone good," said Officer of Navy's NCAA Tournament prospects. "But this team has played the best out of all of our teams against big opponents. We took points off of both North Carolina and Clemson and played well against Notre Dame just last week. We are looking forward to seeing where we end up and are excited to represent Navy and the Patriot League once again."
Navy 4, Army 2
Doubles -- Navy wins the doubles point (Order of Finish: 3, 1, 2)
1. Owen Bullard / Nicholas Gutsche (N) def. Gary Kushnirovich / Rashad Shelton (A), 8-5
2. Ramsey Lemaich / Nick Birger (N) def. John Lucero / Chris Albornoz (A), 8-6
3. Donald Van Velzer / Tripp Johnson (A) def. Eddie Konrad / Jeremy New (N), 8-4
Singles (Order of Finish: 1, 3, 4, 2, 5)
1. Gary Kushnirovich (A) def. Owen Bullard (N), 6-1, 7-6 (4)
2. Marcus Rebersak (N) def. Chris Albornoz (A), 7-6 (3), 6-2
3. Donald Van Velzer (A) def. Anderson Walls (N), 6-4, 6-1
4. Jeremy New (N) def. John Lucero (A), 6-1, 6-2
5. Zach Nicholson (N) def. Tripp Johnson (A), 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (2)
6. Nicholas Gutsche (N) ahead Rashad Shelton (A), 5-3 DNF