MOBILE, Ala. - With a 5-1 win over No. 12 Aquinas College of Michigan (25-5), fourth-ranked Westmont (13-10) has advanced to tomorrow's semifinals of the NAIA Men's Tennis National Championship. Westmont will take on top-ranked Embry-Riddle of Florida (22-2).
"It is great to get over that quarterfinal hump," said Mark Basham regarding the team's first foray into the semifinals in his four-year tenure as head coach. "We had a nice draw and capitalized on it. Tomorrow will be fun."
At number one doubles, Tim Goranson and John Bertram overpowered Aaron Hendrick and Nik Artaev, earning Westmont's first point with an 8-3 victory. At number three doubles, the Saints' Kristoff Saari and Andy Struble claimed the only point for Aquinas by defeating Nick Szyndlar and Lukas Zielen 8-6.
That made the doubles match on court number two critical to both teams. Josh Barnard and Rodrigo Schaefer represented Westmont hopes while Frankie Fischer and Kyle Masteller played for Aquinas.
"Josh and I didn't have a good start," acknowledged Schaefer about the match. "We were down one break. Then surprisingly at 30-40, there was a lob and the guy hit overhead. Then he did the same thing again and we won the point. So we were back in the game.
"After that we felt that it was our time to win. In the last four games, we said to each other, 'Come on! We have to get this because we have to get up 2-1 before singles.' We started playing solid, simple tennis and that is what made us get the win.
The Warriors carried the momentum of that effort into the singles matches. Westmont won the first set on five of the six courts setting up a strong finish.
At number two, Schaefer dispatched Artaev 6-1, 6-2 to give Westmont a 3-1 advantage.
"The singles match was hard at the beginning because of the wind," said Schaefer, referring to a rainless weather system that passed through the area bringing partially cloudy skies. "I was confident because I broke his first serve. After that, I was playing solid tennis."
Just after Schaefer finished on court two, Barnard polished off a 6-3, 6-0 win over Masteller at number four singles. Ten minutes later, Bertram provided the Warriors with the winning fifth point by beating Saari 6-0, 6-4 on court number three.
With the outcome determined, the other three singles matches went unfinished. At number one, Goranson dropped the first set 6-4 and was trailing Hendrick in the second 3-1. At number five, Zielen won 6-3 in the first set and was tied with Fischer at three-all in the second. On the number six court, Szyndlar and Struble had just begun the third set after Szyndlar won the first 6-2 and Struble the second by the same score.
Tomorrow will mark the first time the Warriors have reached the semifinals since the national tournament began team-format play in 2000. Westmont's best finish before the advent of the team-formatted tournament was in 1997 when the Warriors finished third.
Embry-Riddle advanced to the semifinals with a 5-1 win over #8 Lindsey Wilson of Kentucky (17-4). The Warriors and Eagles have faced no common opponents this season.
In the other semifinal match, second-seeded Auburn Montgomery of Alabama (20-3) will take on third-seeded Vanguard (24-0). Auburn Montgomery reached the finals with a 5-2 victory over #9 Cumberlands of Tennessee (19-5).
Fellow Golden State Athletic Conference member Vanguard defeated Xavier of Louisiana (15-8) by a score of 5-2. Xavier is ranked sixth in the NAIA despite having a roster of only five players and therefore forfeiting number six singles and number three doubles in every match that it has played.
Winners of the semifinal matches will advance to Saturday's championship match at 10:00 a.m. CDT (8:00 a.m. PDT).