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Oklahoma Christian Guts Out National Title

May 19, 2012
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By Jake Knabel, NAIA Communications & Sports Information Intern

VIDEO: Oklahoma Christian celebrates 2012 NAIA Men's Tennis National Championship

MOBILE, Ala. – Oklahoma Christian’s Kris Miller has never seen anything like it. The 21st-year head coach of the Eagles guided his team to a men’s tennis national title in 2003, but this one was different.

“I’m not sure how we pulled it out,” Miller said. “We just kept saying all week, ‘just believe, find a way.’ And we did. Our kids are incredible student-athletes.”

Third-seeded Oklahoma Christian seized the 2012 NAIA Men’s Tennis National Championship over top-seeded Fresno Pacific (Calif.) on Saturday at Mobile Tennis Center with a hearty, gutty effort, much like the one it needed to come back against second-seeded Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in Friday’s semifinal.

With the match tied at four apiece, it all came down to No. 1 singles between the Eagles’ Bruno Tiberti and the Sunbirds’ Xavier Smith. Tiberti, the 2012 Ward-Ballinger Outstanding Player honoree, capped an amazing rally by striking for wins in five-straight games in set No. 3, giving him a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 match-clinching victory to send his teammates into a state of delirium.

Tiberti, who also trailed 5-2 in the second set, was mobbed and bear-hugged. The Eagles shouted shrieks of joy as Miller and several of his players exchanged hugs. At one point, senior Martin Poboril caught his head coach, who leapt into the junior’s arms, which Poboril used to hoist Miller into the air and spin him around.

The heroic Tiberti, overcome by emotion, struggled to put the improbable triumph into words.

“It’s not that good to express my emotions right now,” Tiberti said. “I can’t. I just can’t. We worked so hard. They are better than us, but we knew we could get some points if we put pressure on them at the top singles and the doubles.

“It just happened. I don’t know how. I was losing, I was done. I said, ‘I’ve got to push some more.’”

Oklahoma Christian used everything it had left, disinterested in earning style points, the Eagles leaned upon shear will. For the 2012 NAIA Coach of the Year, this was breathtaking tennis, even if it didn’t always appeal to the eye.

“Both of them were just pure guts,” Miller said of his team’s wins at Nos. 1 and 3 singles that allowed Oklahoma Christian to overcome a 4-3 deficit. “They had nothing left in the tank. It was all just heart. Jaime (Sanchez-Canamares) came up with some big plays at just the right time. He played big, played strong to finish.

“And Bruno, classic example of winning ugly. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, doesn’t matter how you play as long as you’re playing to win. He found a tactic that was working. It was ugly to everybody but me. It was beautiful tennis.”

Sanchez-Canamares, who delivered the match-clinching point in Friday’s 5-4 win over Embry-Riddle, came through in the clutch again on Saturday. His 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (6) win over Cledson Carvalho at No. 3 singles kept the Eagles alive and knotted the team score, 4-4.

The win felt particularly sweet for Sanchez-Canamares, considering the magnitude and the fact he was going up against the team he helped to a national title the previous year.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve had in my life,” Sanchez-Canamares said. “It was a hard change to decide to move to OC, but I had a lot of confidence in these guys. I believe in the coach, I believe in the assistant coach.

“I do know we are here again, national champions twice, different teams, two years in a row – crazy.”

Sanchez-Canamares’ former teammates were left to lament what could have been after coming out on the wrong side of an incredible four tie-breaking matches. Both sides admitted that Fresno Pacific rolled out the more talented team, but on this day, the breaks went to the underdog.

“The match felt funny during the doubles,” Sunbird head coach Neil Castro said. “When you lose two tie-breakers and you win one at No. 2, 8-1, easy. It just had a funny feel to it.

“Coach Miller does a great job with his guys. I think they just wanted it a little more than us today. They just out-competed us. I think maybe we were more talented, they just out-competed us.”

For Tiberti and company, nights spent with his teammates envisioning national titles became reality on Saturday.

“Every night we would hang out, we were talking about nationals – every night. We won nationals 17 times on the weekends,” Tiberti joked.

“It just happened. It just happened. I cannot express myself.”