Men's Tennis Team Defeats Army for League Title
April 29, 2012
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A freshman class that had a hand in winning all six matches on the day sparked the Navy men's tennis team to a 4-1 victory over Army in the championship match of the Patriot League Tournament Sunday afternoon in Annapolis. The victory by the top-seeded Mids (18-8) over the third-seeded Black Knights (16-13) advances Navy into the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
Navy will learn its NCAA Tournament destination and opponent Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. EDT when the draw is announced at NCAA.com. The opening round of matches in the event will be played the weekend of May 11-13.
"This is very special for me," said Navy head coach John Officer, who has guided Navy to 10 league titles in his 27 seasons at Navy. "I'm proud of these guys. To start four freshmen and pull this off is a major accomplishment for these guys. We've had some tough things happen this season, but I couldn't be more proud of them. Their effort was amazing."
"This is one of the best feelings you can have," said Navy team captain Marcus Rebersak (Sr., Pittsburgh, Pa.). "Today is what the season comes down to, and all of the guys really stepped up with their play. They played really well today and came up with a big win. The guys have practiced hard all season and we were able to really put it together this weekend.
"I made sure the guys on the team knew what it felt like last year when we lost in the semifinals of the league tournament (4-3 to Lehigh). We didn't expect to lose in the semifinals last year; that hasn't happened in some time for us, so the guys knew how important the Patriot League Tournament is for our program."
"Marcus is such a hard worker," said Officer. "When it comes to fitness, he just pushes everybody. He elevated his game; he won four of his five singles matches against league opponents this year. Marcus matured a tremendous amount as a leader during the course of the season. He did a great job of managing all of the bumps in the road we had this season. I'm really proud of him."
"The leadership of Marcus has taken us to what we accomplished this season," said Blake Daniel (Fr., Overland Park, Kan.).
Sunday's match was a fortnight and a day since the two service academies battled it out on the same USNA Tennis Courts in the annual Star Match. Army won the doubles point that day, but Navy rallied to win four singles matches and record a 4-3 victory over the Black Knights. That match was part of a seven-match stretch where the Mids had lost the doubles point five times, a span that also included Saturday as Navy lost the doubles point in its semifinal round match against Bucknell.
Among the doubles losses for the Mids against the Bison yesterday was a defeat by Navy's No. 1 team of Calvin Mark (Fr., Union City, Calif.) and Peter McDonald (Fr., Chapel Hill, N.C.). It was just the second loss in 24 matches for the duo this spring. The tandem bounced back from its setback of 24 hours ago to post an 8-6 win over Asika Isoh and Henry Jang-Milsten. Army would even up the doubles results with an 8-6 win by its No. 2 team of Peter Sienko and Alex Van Velzer over Tyler Burnett (Fr., Fayetteville, Ga.) and Rebersak. However, Navy would secure the doubles point when Daniel and Nicholas Gutsche (Jr., Sarasota, Fla.) recorded an 8-5 win over Alex Holland and Rashad Shelton at No. 3 doubles.
Today's victors at Nos. 1 and 2 doubles mirrored the results from the first meeting of the season between Army and Navy, but Holland and Shelton had posted an 8-5 win over Daniel and Gutsche at No. 3 doubles when the players first competed against each other.
"The key to the match today was the doubles," said Officer. "We have struggled in doubles this year and Peter and Calvin came out and got things right back together after yesterday and did a great job today. They showed a great deal of character out there in that they were broken with a 7-5 lead, but then broke right back to win the match. Tyler and Marcus also played a very good match. They played much better today than yesterday. Today, Blake and Nick finally played like we have always thought they were capable of."
The team winning the doubles point in the Army-Navy series entered today having won 22 of the last 25 matches.
Needing to only split half of the six singles matches to win the overall match, Navy would quickly win the first set in three matches while Army won the opening set in two matches. After surrendering just one game in winning the first set of his match at No. 3 singles against Holland, McDonald gave up just two games in winning the second set and placing Navy's second team point up on the scoreboard. McDonald had defeated Holland by the exact same score when the two players faced each other 15 days ago.
Daniel soon gave the Mids their third team point when he recorded a 6-2, 6-3 win over Jang-Milsten at the No. 4 flight. Just as in the two McDonald-Holland matches, the final score of the two Daniel vs. Jang-Milsten matches were almost the same. Daniel had won a 6-2, 6-2 decision over Jang-Milsten in the first meeting of the players.
The Navy lead would be trimmed to 3-1 when Rommel Verano posted a 6-1, 6-3 win over Gutsche at No. 5 singles. This was a turnaround from the first match of the season between the players. Both Verano and Gutsche fought dehydration and fatigue that day in what would turn out to be a three-set win by Gutsche in the decisive match of the regular season dual.
Mark then gave Navy its ninth Patriot League title when he completed a 6-4, 6-2 win over Van Velzer at No. 2 singles. It was the second time this season that Mark had defeated Van Velzer in straight sets (6-2, 7-6).
In the remaining two matches that were not completed, Rebersak and Isoh were just starting a third set (Isoh won the first set, 6-2; Rebersak won the second set, 6-1) at No. 1 singles and Burnett held a 3-2 lead over Sienko in a tiebreaker that was being played to decide the first set of their No. 6 singles match.
"I don't think anyone thought we would win in doubles," said Officer. "That gave us a huge lift. But we were not complacent. We knew it would be a fight and that Army would come back. We're just tough in singles. Blake and Peter both have 21 wins for the full season; Calvin has 21 wins in the spring alone. They are guys who know what it is like and what it takes to win matches."
Navy's four freshmen -- Burnett, Daniel, Mark, McDonald -- tallied six of the seven singles victories during Navy's two Patriot League Tournament wins this weekend. Mark and McDonald both posted 2-0 records in singles this weekend, while Daniel and Burnett both recorded one victory apiece and were leading in their respective matches that were left unfinished.
"I can't say enough about the freshmen," said Officer. "You can go down the line this weekend ... Calvin won both of his singles matches and split in doubles; Blake won once in doubles, once in singles and was leading in his other singles match; Tyler had a singles win and was leading in the tiebreaker; and Peter finished with three wins in four matches. These guys have a lot of wins under their belt and when it comes down to the championship, they have a lot of confidence in their abilities."
"It has been an up-and-down year because of the young team that we have," said Daniel. "We just played our first Army-Navy match a few weeks ago. To do so again and to have it be for the league title means everything.
"I think we were all feeling the nerves this weekend, especially yesterday. We were definitely feeling the pressure because the last time we played Army it was such a battle, one that could have gone either way. We went into today knowing it was going to be a similar match."
Mark would be tabbed as the Most Valuable Player of the Patriot League Tournament.
"We were all way more focused today," said Mark. "We had a tough loss last week to UMBC, but we were tired and were already looking ahead to the tournament. Once it began, we just stepped up our game. It could have been any number of us who were named as the MVP."
Army and Navy have now faced each other in the championship match of the league tournament 12 times in the 19 seasons of the current format utilized for the event. The Mids have now posted a 9-3 record against the Black Knights when the service academy teams have met in the title tilt.
Navy (18-8) def. Army (16-13), 4-1
Doubles -- Navy wins the doubles point (1-2-3)
1. Mark, Calvin/McDonald, Peter (NAVY) def. Isoh, Asika/Jang-Milsten, Henry (ARMY) 8-6
2. Sienko, Peter/Van Velzer, Alex (ARMY) def. Burnett, Tyler/Rebersak, Marcus (NAVY) 8-6
3. Daniel, Blake/Gutsche, Nicholas (NAVY) def. Holland, Alex/Shelton, Rashad (ARMY) 8-5
1. Rebersak, Marcus (NAVY) vs. Isoh, Asika (ARMY) 2-6, 6-1, unfinished
2. Mark, Calvin (NAVY) def. Van Velzer, Alex (ARMY) 6-4, 6-2
3. McDonald, Peter (NAVY) def. Holland, Alex (ARMY) 6-1, 6-2
4. Daniel, Blake (NAVY) def. Jang-Milsten, Henry (ARMY) 6-2, 6-3
5. Verano, Rommel (ARMY) def. Gutsche, Nicholas (NAVY) 6-1, 6-3
6. Burnett, Tyler (NAVY) vs. Sienko, Peter (ARMY) 6-6 (3-2), unfinished