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Men's tennis team ends 2nd in nation

by Melissa Ann Gatmaitan, staff writer

For the second year in a row, HPU men’s tennis team finished its season as finalists of the NCAA Division II National Championships, held at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. And for the second year in a row, HPU was second in the nation.

While most teams advanced easily in the first round, the fifth-ranked HPU (17-3) struggled with The Patriots of Francis Marion, a South Carolina college. HPU was up 2-1 after doubles and easily gained a 4-1 lead after Mikael Maatta and ITA West Region Senior Player-of-the-Year, Wojtek Bratek won their singles. The Patriots battled back to win two more singles points to close in at 4-3, but HPU’s Stefan Pampulov came from behind in his singles to lead the team into the quarterfinals at 5-3.

“They were definitely one of the toughest teams in the draw,” said Head Coach Henry Somerville. “We didn’t know we would have such a difficult time in the first round.” NCAA Division II college tennis is played with six singles and three doubles matches, each earning one point to either team. The winner is determined from the best of these nine matches; however in NCAA championship play, the first team to win five points earns the victory and all remaining matches are abandoned.

In the quarterfinals HPU faced fourth-ranked Ouachita Baptist (18-6), a team they had defeated earlier in the season. The pattern was identical. The Sea Warriors had a 2-1 lead after doubles and easily claimed singles victories by Jan Tribler and Bratek to lead again at 4-1. Ouachita Baptist rallied to take two more singles, and Maatta’s 12-win streak. With the score at 4-3, Pampulov’s win clinched the quarterfinal match at 5-3.

“He’s clutch, what can I say?” said Somerville about Pampulov. “Every time he’s in a pressured situation he plays his best tennis.” This victory led to a semifinal match against the best team in the country, Drury College (21-5) of Springfield, Missouri. This time the tables were turned and the Sea Warriors trailed 2-1 after doubles and 4-1 after losing two singles. “We found ourselves caught in a pivotal moment, ending the season here or going for it all the way,” said Somerville.

The Sea Warriors pulled off what Somerville calls “the greatest comeback in school history,” winning the remaining four singles matches. The deciding win was last year’s Rookie-of-the-Year, Jan Tribler. Down two games in the third set, Tribler won six straight games to give HPU a 5-4 win in the semifinal round and give the men’s team a second chance at a national title.

In the final HPU faced Rollins College of Florida, which had upset second-ranked BYU-Hawai‘i in the other semifinal match. In the championship round, HPU was quickly down 3-0 after a series of close doubles matches. “It happened so fast,” said Somerville, “the guys never knew what hit them.” In the end, Rollins prevailed. After a week of tough competition and defeating two of the top teams in the nation, HPU lost 5-0 in the finals to sixth-seeded Rollins College.

“We were all so exhausted,” said Pampulov after the match. “But we played and believed like champions all the way through.”


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