NORFOLK, Va. – Sophomore Ilia Ziamtsou rallied from behind in dramatic fashion to win a tie-breaker at No. 5 singles to lift top-seeded UNC Wilmington over No. 2 seeded VCU, 4-3, late Sunday afternoon for its first Colonial Athletic Association Men’s Tennis Championship.
“Quite honestly, it was one of the most exciting college tennis matches I’ve ever been involved in,” said an elated UNCW Head Coach Mait DuBois, the CAA’s Coach-of-the-Year. “It’s a great feeling. You couldn’t have written a better finish.”
In a tightly contest match at ODU’s Folkes-Stevens Tennis Center, the Seahawks won their 10th consecutive match to improve to 19-5 overall and finished with an unblemished 7-0 mark against conference opponents this season. More importantly, UNCW earned the CAA’s automatic berth to the NCAA Men’s Tennis Tournament.
VCU, 11-time CAA champions, was playing in its 13th final in the last 14 years, but couldn’t knock off the upstart Seahawks, who became just the fourth different team to win the CAA title since 1995. The Rams, ranked 45th in this week’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll, wound up 17-9 and 4-2.
The Seahawks, ranked 75th by the ITA, trailed 3-0 after dropping the doubles point and an early singles match to the Rams. In doubles, VCU’s No. 1 tandem of Emil Lindgren and Benjamin Bouhana, ranked 60th nationally, downed Gustavo Bertei and Ryan Ybarra, 8-5, and the No. 3 team of Filip Svennson and Bobo Delemark topped Michael Pereira and Alex Wetherell, 8-3.
But UNCW, using its recipe for success all season, used the heart of the singles lineup to knock off the Rams. Kinshuk Sharma defeated VCU’s Nicolas Vinel, 7-6 (5), 6-3, at No. 3 singles to put the Seahawks on the board, and Ybarra rallied past Bouhana, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3, at No. 4 singles to slice the deficit to 3-2.
Pereira then fell behind 3-0 in the third set to Lindgren before pulling out a 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 victory at No. 2 singles, setting the stage for Ziamtsou’s classic battle with Svennson at No. 5 singles, with the match and the right to represent the CAA in the NCAA Tournament on the line.
With an anxious crowd watching courtside, Svennson forged ahead, 6-5, 40-love, but Ziamtsou saved three match points and then won the tie-breaker for a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) decision, setting off a wild celebration by the Seahawks.
“I just had this feeling that this was our time,” DuBois said. “After we came back to beat ODU yesterday, I had the feeling that we could do it again. Although we were down 3-1, I felt we had the momentum. Our guys are just a scrappy group.
“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t playing at the level we needed to win, but the guys really worked hard. This is just a great group of guys with great character.”
UNCW defeated Drexel, Old Dominion and VCU en route to the championship behind a young lineup that featured one senior, four sophomores and one freshman.
The Seahawks and 63 other teams will compete in the 124th NCAA Division I Men’s Tennis Championships, beginning with the First and Second Rounds on May 8-9 at designated campus sites. The finals will be held at the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center in College Station, Texas.
2009 CAA Men’s Tennis Championship Final Results
#1 UNC Wilmington 4, #2 VCU 3
#1 Martin Schulhauser (VCU) d. Gustavo Bertei, 6-1, 6-0
#2 Michael Pereira (UNCW) d. Emil Lindgren (VCU), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5
#3 Kinshuk Sharma (UNCW) d. Nicolas Vinel (VCU), 7-6 (5), 6-3
#4 Ryan Ybarra (UNCW) d. Benjamin Bouhana (VCU), 6-3, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3
#5 Illia Ziamtsou (UNCW) d. Filip Svennson (VCU), 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-2)
#6 Bobo Delemark (VCU) d. Alex Wetherell (UNCW), 6-3, 6-2
#1) Lindgren/Bouhana (VCU) d. Ybarra/Bertei (UNCW), 8-5
#2 Ziamtsou/Sharma (UNCW) d. Schulhauser/Vinel (VCU), 8-6
#3 Svensson/Delemark (VCU) d. Pereira/Wetherell (UNCW), 8-3
UNCW qualifies for NCAA Tournament