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Auburn Montgomery, Embry-Riddle Advance to Title Match

May 18, 2012
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By Jake Knabel, NAIA Communications & Sports Information Intern

MOBILE, Ala. – Few programs in any collegiate sport have exhibited such total domination on a national scale as the women’s tennis program at Auburn Montgomery (Ala.). The Warhawks ironed out any vulnerabilities they showed in Thursday’s 5-2 win over Concordia (Calif.), displaying why they are the top seed with a 5-1 victory over fourth-seeded Oklahoma Christian on Friday.

Auburn Montgomery will make its 13th-straight trip to the national title match when it takes the court on Saturday at the 2012 NAIA Women’s Tennis National Championships.

“It’s a great honor to be a part of a great team,” Warhawk head coach Rolando Vargas said. “To be again in the finals is a great accomplishment already. Hopefully we keep playing the way we played today and have a shot to win the tournament tomorrow.”

Vargas, whose previous stop came at NCAA Division I Troy University as a men’s and women’s assistant, guided Auburn Montgomery to its 11th national title last season in his first year at the helm. His top-two players, Ana Veselinovic and Jade Curtis, were part of that championship team and have been instrumental in vaulting the Warhawks back to the grand stage.

“Jade Curtis at No. 2 today was really, really solid,” Vargas said of the Saltash, England, native who won 6-2, 6-1 at singles. “She came out strong from the very beginning. She was the first one to win her singles match, so that helped us take a good lead, 3-1, and extend the momentum.”

Veselinovic, the top-rated singles player in the NAIA by the ITA, also won her singles match, topping third-rated singles player Hermon Brhane, 6-4, 6-1, at No. 1 singles. The lethal pair of Veselinovic and Curtis took an 8-2 decision at No. 1 doubles.

“There were a couple of places where they (AUM) just played well,” Oklahoma Christian head coach Kris Miller said. “They played really well at (positions) one and two. Even though we fought, they just outplayed us at one and two. They’re deep. They’re very talented. You’ve got to play really well to beat them. I don’t think we played very well today but I thought we fought really well today.”

In the other semifinal match, third-seeded Embry-Riddle (Fla.) raced out to a 3-0 lead over second-seeded Fresno Pacific (Calif.) at the conclusion of doubles play, before holding on for a 5-3 victory with wins at Nos. 3 and 4 singles. As the match ran just past the four-hour mark, Ekaterina Kamendova claimed a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Yumiko Justin at No. 3 singles to end the match and send her teammates into an uproar.

“We didn’t play very well at all in doubles,” Fresno Pacific head coach Neil Castro said. “We got down by a lot at (positions) one and three. On two we competed, we fought back, got it to seven all, but lost the match. Whenever you’re down 3-0, it’s so hard to win.”

The tension built considerably as the Sunbirds got singles victories at Nos. 1, 5 and 6 singles, while surrendering No. 4 to the Eagles’ Kristina Marova. A trip to the national title came down to Marie Boura at No. 2 and Yumiko Justin at No. 3 for Fresno Pacific. With Boura leading 5-4 in the third set at No. 2, Kamendova struck for match point at No. 3.

Embry-Riddle’s mild upset of the Sunbirds puts the Eagles in the national title match for the first time in school history. Fresno Pacific had been aiming to make it a seventh-consecutive year in which the title match featured the Sunbirds against Auburn Montgomery.

Embry-Riddle’s Yi Ching Chen, a No. 1 at singles and doubles, and Josefine Strom, No. 5 singles and No. 1 doubles, both previously attended Auburn Montgomery. The duo hopes to prevent their former school from winning its eighth title in nine years when the title match gets underway Saturday at 10 a.m. CDT at Mobile Tennis Center.