Cougars hold strong in storybook ending
ELON, N.C. (CofC) -- It was a storybook ending - one the No. 75-ranked and top-seeded College of Charleston women's tennis team and their No. 1 singles player Christin Newman will never forget.
The feisty and vocal senior from Greensboro, N.C., led the Cougars (20-8) to their fifth consecutive Southern Conference Women's Tennis Championship title on Sunday - a 4-3 victory over No. 66-ranked and second-seeded Elon, who hosted the postseason tournament on its home courts for the first time since 2009 - the same exact year CofC went on its current tournament run under 2013 SoCon Coach of the Year Angelo Anastopoulo.
With the league title and automatic NCAA Tournament bid hanging in the balance at 3-all, it came down to the last match standing between the league's Player of the Year in Newman and Elon's Jordan Johnston at the top of the order.
"It truly was a storybook ending," Newman said. "We started our third set when everyone else was done on the courts and knew it would be the match to decide it all."
Both players split sets leading to the dramatic third-set finish showing no signs of fatigue. Newman won 6-3 in the first set, while Johnston won the second-set tiebreaker, 7-4. What would ensue after that is mind boggling for even Newman to recount.
Each player opened the third set with a service break, while Newman took a 2-1 lead holding serve in the third game of the set as did Johnston in the fourth game. Newman would go up 4-2 with two more service breaks, but Johnston followed suit with a break and a hold to tie it up at 4-all. Both players later held serve to make it 5-all. Newman would go on to win the 11th game of the set - a 26-minute, 26-point game with 10 deuces, and the final game to clinch the match victory.
CofC's five-peat ties as the longest SoCon women's tennis tournament win streak next to Furman, who won five in a row twice from 1998-2002 and 2004-08. The win also ranks the Cougars second all-time in SoCon women's tennis tournament titles (6) behind Furman (16) and ahead of Chattanooga (5).
"We went full circle it seems," Anastopoulo reflected. "It started in 2009 when we upset Furman in the finals. To end up winning our last Southern Conference Championship match and tie Furman's record of five tournament titles in a row - that's something I could never have dreamt off.
"I'm so proud of what this team has done. In the end, it was a storybook ending with our No. 1, hardest worker and most vocal player on the court coming through in the end. You couldn't write a more perfect script than that."
Freshmen Brooke McAmis (Greensboro, N.C.) and Katherine Schofield (Franklin, Tenn.) won their respective matches at No. 3 and No. 6 singles respectively to contribute to the final team score. Both went 3-0 for the tournament in their first-ever appearance in postseason tournament play.
McAmis defeated Elon's Viviana Stavreva in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1, while Schofield beat Maria Camara Ruiz, 6-2, 6-2.
"They stepped up big today," said Newman, who was named SoCon Tournament Most Outstanding Performer. "I can't describe how proud I am of them. It shows how valuable they will be for the future of our program. They are two phenomenal players and fighters and will only continue to get better. I'm happy I was able to share a year with them."
Anastopoulo shares that same sentiment for the two rookies, "It was two unbelievable performances by two freshmen who played like veterans today. But, they learned well from the upperclassmen leadership of Christin Newman, Olivia McMillan and Irene Viana in how to compete and being well prepared for a loud environment like we witnessed at Elon."
The Cougars opened play by winning a tightly-contested doubles point. Junior Kelly Kambourelis (Melbourne, Fla.) and sophomore Jenny Falcone (Davidson, N.C.) dispatched Elon's Viviana Stavreva and Maria Camara Ruiz, 8-4, at No. 2 doubles. The Phoenix responded as Johnston and Fida Jansaker won a back-and-forth affair at No. 1 doubles over senior Irene Viana (Paris, France) and Katherine Schofield, 9-8.
Sophomore Samantha Maddox (Lexington, Ky.) and Newman held off Taylor Casey and Briana Berne (8-6) to give CofC the opening point of the match and some confidence and breathing room heading into singles play.
"Jenny and Kelly played great doubles all weekend," Anastopoulo said. ""Without a doubt, we met our match with Elon today. They were just as vocal, competitive and loud as our team was. We were just a point or two better than them and a lot of luck was involved. The match could have gone either way. Elon had a tremendous match. They played like they had been there a dozen times and it's a real credit to Coach (Elizabeth) Anderson that they were well prepared in their first-ever SoCon title match."
It also marked the program's seventh-straight year to post a 20-win campaign under Anastopoulo, while the Phoenix, the only squad to knock off CofC in the regular season with a 5-2 win on March 27, ended their year at 21-4 overall.
The Cougars will learn their postseason seed and destination as the 2013 NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Team Championship field will be announced on Tuesday, April 30 at 5:30 p.m. (ET).
"I wanted another opportunity to go to NCAAs," said Newman, whose older sister, Caroline, became the first student-athlete in school history to compete in four NCAA Tournaments in any sport as a women's tennis senior standout in 2012. "Not only because it was my senior year, but because it was our last year in the Southern Conference. We've had a target on our back all year and it's great to be able to go out this way."
The College of Charleston men's tennis team stayed in town to cheer on the women's team on Sunday. "Coach (Jay) Bruner and the men's team were the deciding factor for us today. They helped our girls fight through the match against Elon. We were able to keep our focus and intensity, because our players could feel the energy and support from our guys. They did a tremendous job and we thank them."