CORPUS CHRISTI – The Texas A&M – Corpus Christi Men's Tennis program has done a lot since its inception in 1998, reaching the NCAA Championships several times, being ranked in the top 35 of the ITA National Rankings and winning five consecutive Southland Conference Championships, but it had never won "The HEB" held every year in Corpus Christi. That changed on Saturday.
The Islanders marked another thing off the list on Saturday afternoon, winning a gutsy 4-3 match over No. 34 Middle Tennessee in the finals of the 47th Annual HEB Tournament of Champions, taking home the first title in the event that has been held every year since 1966 and been sponsored by HEB.
"In the history of the tennis program, started in 1998, this is undoubtedly one of our greatest moments," said Director of Tennis Steve Moore. "This is the longest running college team tournament in the United States, and is one of the great events in the history of sports in Corpus Christi.
"HEB has sponsored this event since 1966, and we are grateful beyond belief that Texas A&M – Corpus Christi is able to host this great tournament. It doesn't get any better than today, to win this event in our hometown for the first time ever."
The Islanders (4-5) outlasted MTSU (10-5) in a very evenly matched contest, with the final point coming down to a third set win by the home team at No. 5 singles to clinch the match. The win gave Texas A&M – Corpus Christi victories over No. 30 BYU and No. 34 MTSU in the tournament. The Blue Raiders have been a tremendous team this year, reaching the Top 35 in the nation heading into the tournament and having played the No. 11 Mississippi State Bulldogs to a 4-3 loss during the course of the season.
"We beat an incredibly strong college tennis team today in Middle Tennessee," said Moore. "They played a great match and deserved to win as well. This was simply a great battle and a great college tennis match."
The doubles point came down to a pivotal game at the No. 3 position. The Islanders were victorious at No. 1, with Peter Nagy and Odon Barta pulling ahead of Marlon Brand and Yannick Born early and posting an 8-5 victory. MTSU turned the tables on the home squad at No. 2, with Victor Cornea and Ben Davis using an early break to gain momentum and take an 8-4 decision from Guillaume Rauseo and Gergo Weidinger.
At No. 3, the duo of Matt Westmoreland and Andrew Maingot got a crucial break over Christoph Lang and David Fox to tie the score 3-3. Then with Westmoreland at the serve, the two teams engaged in an extremely long affair, with six game points taking place, and Lang/Fox emerging with the victory at last. The duo then rode that momentum to an 8-4 triumph to give the Blue Raiders the doubles point.
Despite being down a point early, the Islanders continued to fight for every point and kept themselves in every single match.
"What I'm most proud of is the way our team did it, overcoming adversity, competing as hard as you humanly can and supporting each other in a special way like a true team," said Moore. "That's what Islanders Tennis is all about."
Ricardo Mayagoitia quickly put the Islanders level with MTSU, winning a 6-1, 6-0 match after elevating to No. 4 singles and losing just eight points in the entire match to make it 1-1.
Weidinger gave his team a lead at 2-1 when he earned a 6-4, 6-2 win at the No. 3 position. Lang tied things up for MTSU, taking a 6-2, 6-2 final over Westmoreland to even it up once again.
Fox once again gave the Blue Raiders the lead with a 6-3, 6-4 over Pietro Jordao at No. 6 singles, but a 6-2, 7-5 win by Nagy over Davis, the No. 92-ranked singles player in the nation, put it all square at 3-3.
The final point came down to the only third set of the day, as Javier Pujol and Ettore Zito traded 6-2 sets to force a final set to decide the championship. Pujol broke Zito and then won the second game to go up 2-0, but Zito broke back to even it up at 2-2. Pujol once again broke Zito to go to 4-2, but in similar fashion as before, Zito broke back to even it at 4-4. After breaking Zito for a final time to make it 5-4, Pujol served out the match to take a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 final and clinch the title for his team. Pujol battled cramps throughout the third set, but kept fighting his way to the clinching point.
It was a banner week for the Islanders Tennis program, winning the HEB over a Top 35 team in the same week that the women's tennis team earned a national ranking for the first time in school history. The support of the Corpus Christi tennis community has been a big part in the success of the programs, and the crowds during the two-day event backed that up.
"I've always believed this is the best tennis community in the United States," said Moore. "The way people showed up to support this tournament, over 200 people two days in a row, and the way this community reaches out to house over 80 players. That can only happen in Corpus Christi."
Despite the glow of winning a title, the Texas A&M – Corpus Christi men's team must quickly turn their attention to a tough South Alabama team on Monday at 10 a.m. The Jaguars beat No. 30 BYU on Sunday in the fifth-place match, and are always a tough opponent for the Islanders.
Live updates will be available by following the Islanders on Twitter (@IslandersTennis), and all other information on the team can be found by liking the team on Facebook (IslandersTennis) and visiting www.GoIslanders.com.
Tennis Match Results
Middle Tennessee vs Texas A&M - Corpus Christi
03/02/13 at Corpus Christi, Texas
Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 4, #34 Middle Tennessee 3
1. Peter Nagy (AMCC) def. #92 Davis, Ben (MT) 6-2, 7-5
2. Lang, Christoph (MT) def. Matt Westmoreland (AMCC) 6-2, 6-2
3. Gergo Weidinger (AMCC) def. Cornea, Victor (MT) 6-4, 6-2
4. Ricardo Mayagoitia (AMCC) def. Born, Yannick (MT) 6-1, 6-0
5. Javier Pujol (AMCC) def. Zito, Ettore (MT) 6-2, 2-6, 6-4
6. Fox, David (MT) def. Pietro Jordao (AMCC) 6-3, 6-4
1. Peter Nagy/Odon Barta (AMCC) def. Born, Yannick/Brand, Marlon (MT) 8-5
2. Cornea, Victor/Davis, Ben (MT) def. Gergo Weidinger/Guillaume Rauseo (AMCC) 8-4
3. Lang, Christoph/Fox, David (MT) def. Andrew Maingot/Matt Westmoreland (AMCC) 8-4
Middle Tennessee 10-5; National ranking #34
Texas A&M - Corpus Christi 4-5
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (4,3,2,6,1,5)