By Dylan Vazzano, TTU Sports Information Coordinator
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech tennis team has reached the pinnacle once again.
For the ninth time in the program's illustrious history, the second-seeded Golden Eagles are champions of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, capturing the title with a 4-3 win over top-seeded Belmont in a match for the ages.
Tech, who clinches a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the third-consecutive year, makes history with the program's first ever three-peat in the OVC Tournament after the Golden Eagles collected the crown in each of the last two seasons.
"It's always great to win a championship and we are very happy about it," TTU head coach Kenny Doyle said. "We look forward to seeing where we go and who we are going to play. Everyone is excited about it and we thank everyone that came out to see us play today, it was a great match."
TTU (10-11) will await its postseason fate with the NCAA Tournament selection show on May 1. The Golden Eagles will enter the big dance having won eight of their last nine matches and strike for revenge after falling in the regular season finale a mere eight days earlier to Belmont (14-11) in a battle for the regular season title. For Coach Doyle's squad, the Golden Eagles simply turned the page and kept last weekend's result in the past.
"It's just another day, so you just start over fresh," the ninth-year Tech head coach claimed. "We competed well and fought well. Congrats go out to Belmont who played a great match and helped us rise to another level in this event. We are very proud of everyone."
With stage grandest and the lights brightest, freshman Riku Kubota shined to propel Tech to the championship. With the match squared at 3-3 and Kubota's No. 5 singles bout tied at one set apiece, the 5-foot-8 rookie rallied to knock off senior Stephen Goldman to give the Golden Eagles their fourth point and the championship.
Goldman had just won back-to-back games to push set three to a 3-3 deadlock, but Kubota was cool, calm and collected en route to three straight wins to seize final set 6-3. Kubota claimed the No. 5 singles matchup, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.
Prior to Kubota's triumph, Belmont notched a critical win in the No. 6 spot to set the stage for the dramatic finish. Jake Briggs edged Gonzalo Garcia, 6-2, 6-2, to knot the match at 3-3 in seesaw title tilt.
No. 68 Eduardo Mena pushed Tech to a 3-2 lead with a win in the top spot over the OVC Player of the Year, Hendrik Inno. Mena, who had fell to Inno in the regular season finale for only his second career conference loss, bounced back with a 6-7, 6-3, 6-0 victory to break a 2-2 tie in the match.
TTU's other singles win came in the No. 4 position as Jorge Alfonzo soared past Zak Kahn, 6-2, 6-2, to extend Tech's lead to 2-0 after the Golden Eagles won the doubles point. Belmont would go on to square the match at 2-2 with wins in the No. 2 and No. 3 slots. Marko Ilic defeated Wenceslao Albin, 6-2, 7-5, in the No. 2 affair and Vincent Sterkens registered a 6-4, 6-2 win against Marc Milo in the No. 3 spot.
The Golden Eagles started the match in primed fashion by seizing the doubles point, a crucial factor in leading Tech to the title. TTU claimed wins in the No. 1 and No. 3 slots as the tandem of Arthur Justo and Marc Mila knocked off Hendrik Inno and Marko Ilic, 6-3, in the No. 1 position and the combination of Eduardo Mena and Gonzalo Garcia powered past Vincent Sterkens and David Faulkner, 6-4, in the No. 3 battle.
The NCAA Tournament first and second rounds are set for May 11-13 in a variety of on-campus sites. The rest of the tourney, including the semifinals and finals, are scheduled for May 17-28 at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information