Islanders Men's and Women's Tennis Claim Southland Titles

For the first time in program history, the Texas A&M - Corpus Christi men's and women's tennis teams have both earned an automatic birth to the NCAA Team Championships after clinching the Southland Conference Championships today at the Thomas J. Henry Tennis Center. The Islanders men's team (19-9, 6-0 SLC) will make their fifth appearance in the NCAAs in the last seven years and their second consecutive trip after securing a 4-1 victory over Lamar (14-13, 2-4 SLC) today in the championship match. After winning the doubles point, the Islanders put together a 3-1 lead in singles before senior Matt Westmoreland for the second straight year clinched the championship match for the Islanders. The Islanders have now won six Southland Conference Tournament Championships.

The women's team (22-5, 11-1 SLC) has had an historic season, notching a program-best 22 wins and winning their first ever Southland Conference Tournament Championship. The Islanders earned their first automatic birth into the NCAA Championships after posting a 4-2 win over Northwestern State (20-6, 11-1 SLC). After falling behind early 2-0, the Islanders rallied back to win three straight singles matches, before Celia Rodriguez clinched the match for the Islanders in No. 4 singles in a second-set tiebreaker.

"These big matches are not about tennis," Director of Tennis Steve Moore said. "They are about fighting, grit and never giving up. It doesn't matter who hits the ball better, it matters who fights harder, grinds, manages the wind and keeps believing in themselves. These girls were all about that. They were just the best fighters, the most high-character fighters, and honestly a lot of teams deserve this, but these girls deserve this.

"They were the highest-character group I could ever ask for. We were not the flashiest team. We did not have a lot of big five-star recruits and we went 22-5 because they showed up to play hard every match, they encouraged each other every match, and they committed to saying, 'we're going to outfight people and we're going to out-encourage people and we are going to stick together and out-persevere people. You say that a lot, and you encourage your team to do that, but to actually see a team do it is incredibly fulfilling. The character of these girls I can't say enough about."

The women's team dropped the doubles point on courts one and three to fall behind 1-0 to the Lady Demons. The sophomore duo of Maider Martin and Rodriguez breezed past Natalya Krutova and Kateryna Piatakova, 8-2, in No. 2 doubles, before the senior-freshman duo of Sandra Burges and Judit Vives fell 8-4 to Polina Konop and Taiana Larina in No. 1 doubles. The doubles point then came down to No. 3 doubles between the Islanders pair of Stefania Nicolae and Kerry Galhos and the NSU's duo of Aliona Ladutska and Daniela Simonova. The Islanders fell behind early before dropping an 8-5 loss. 

NSU built a 2-0 lead after Nicolae dropped a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Konop in No. 1 singles. The Islanders however fought and battled their way back to knot the match at 2-2. Martin took care of business in No. 3 singles with a 6-3, 6-0 straight-set victory over Ladutska, before Galhos evened the match with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Simonova. Burges then put the Islanders in front after grinding out a three-set win in No. 5 singles over Krutova. The senior garnered the first set 6-3, before falling 6-3 in the second set. In the third, Burges powered her way to a 6-1 win to tack on the Islanders third point of the day. She now has won seven straight matches and has tallied a 21-5 overall record.

After Burges clinched her match, Rodriguez and Vives were battling in the second set. Rodriguez won her first set 6-4 in No. 4 singles, while Vives squeezed out a 7-5 first set over Larina in No. 2 singles. Vives was down 5-2 in the first set and won five straight games to win 7-5. She dropped the second set 6-3 just before Rodriguez clinched the match for the Islanders.

Rodriguez fell behind in the second set, 4-2, before battling her way back to even the match at 4-4. The sophomore then pushed ahead 5-4 after winning the next game. However, with match point on the line, her opponent Piatakova, won the next two games to garner a 6-5 lead. Rodriguez never gave up though and won the next game to force the tiebreaker. In the tiebreaker, Rodriguez fell behind 5-2, before fighting her way back to win five straight points and clinch the match for the Islanders. The Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain native has won 15 straight matches for an impressive 22-3 record, including a perfect 18-0 record at No. 4 singles.

"This year they were wiser and just a little smarter," Moore said. "To see Sandra Burges in the third set just keep swinging free and going for it, and even when Celia looked like she was going to win, and then she loses it, and she just keeps coming, keeps chopping wood, and keeps believing. That was the big question in this match, I knew they were going to fight hard and knew they were going to care, I just wanted them to play free and at the end they really did."

The men's team opened with a 2-0 lead over Lamar after clinching a tight doubles point and Javier Pujol secured his sixth straight singles match. The duo of Peter Nagy and Guillaume Rauseo powered past Jeandre Hoogenboezem and Juuso Laitinen, 8-2, in No. 1 doubles, before the sophomore pair of Ricardo Mayagoitia and Pujol fell 8-4 to Trey Crysel and Michael Feucht in No. 3 doubles. The deciding doubles point came down to No. 2 doubles between the senior-freshman duo of Matt Westmoreland and Paul Cook and Lis and Rajamaki. The Islanders pair built an early 3-1 lead before the Cardinal duo pushed ahead 7-5. The Islanders then rallied to win the next two games and force a seven-point tiebreaker. In the tiebreak, the Islanders rallied behind the loud Corpus Christi fans to win 7-3 and clinch the doubles point for the Islanders.

In singles play, Pujol padded the Islanders lead to 2-0 after topping Laitinen, 6-4, 6-3 in No. 3 singles. Lamar answered with a straight-set win in No. 2 singles to pull within one. Lis defeated Mayagoitia, 6-4, 6-2, before the Islanders secured the next two singles matches. Nagy clinched his 20th singles win of the season and his eight-straight singles victory after downing Feucht, 6-2, 6-3, in No. 1 singles. The two-time Southland Conference Player of the Year has registered a 20-3 singles mark this season in the No. 1 slot.

In the final three singles matches, Rauseo was battling in a three-setter with Hoogenboezem in No. 5 singles while Cook was forced to a third set in No. 6 singles with Rajamaki, so it came down to Westmoreland, the lone Islanders senior. Westmoreland sealed the first set 6-1, before clinching the match for the Islanders with a 6-3 win over Lindqvis in No. 4 singles. Last season, Westmoreland clinched the Southland championship match for the Islanders in the No. 3 singles and followed with the clinching win today in No. 4 singles. It marks Westmoreland's third trip to the NCAAs in his four years.   

"Sandra, Celia, Matt, they are all the same," Moore said. They are not just high-character, they are super-high character. They are not just hard workers, they are extremely hard workers and extremely good competitors. Everything you can ask them to be great at, hard worker, teammate, competitor, they are great at. They aren't the flashiest players, so to see them grind people down, really validates those qualities we go after. It really speaks a lot about their character. It's not about tennis, it's not about talent, it's about fighting and it's about grit and character, and they are all about fighting, grit and character.

"Matt has worked so hard and cares so much. This really validates his hard work, to see him do this on the big stage. That was special to see our senior do this especially him. He's really been just a tremendously big hearted kid for us."

The Islanders will find out their opponents and where they will be traveling during the NCAA selection show on Tuesday, April 29. The men's selection will start at 4 p.m. with the women's to follow at 4:30 p.m.

"I love Corpus," Moore said. "I think it's the best tennis city in the country. It means a lot to win it here. We have a lot of supporters, family, dear friends and a lot of donors who have made this possible for our program, who are greatly appreciated."

For all the latest on Islanders Tennis, like the team on Facebook (IslandersTennis) and follow them on Twitter and Instagram (@IslandersTennis).



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