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RETRIEVER TENNIS--NCAA BOUND!!!
- Though the notion has been brewing for some time now, the word “dynasty” may have officially entered the NEC lexicon following UMBC’s sweep of the NEC Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships at the Mercer County Tennis Center in West Windsor, NJ on Saturday. Under the tutelage of 13thyear head coach Keith Puryear, the Retrievers made it four in a row on the women’s side with a 4-0 win over longtime rival Quinnipiac, while the men earned their third straight crown by blanking Fairleigh Dickinson, 4-0. The stage was set for the women’s championship finale when top-seeded UMBC opened the day with a 4-0 shutout of #4 Monmouth, while #2 seeded Quinnipiac ousted #3 Long Island by the same 4-0 count. The two veteran teams seemed to be on a collision course from the start of the season and met for the third straightyear in the title match in what has developed into one of the league’s top rivalries. UMBC won the hotly contested doubles point when the #2 duo of Tia Kaasalainen (Pirkkala, Finland/Sampo) and Lana Khvalina (Rochester, NY/Brighton) defeated Kim Piazza (North Haven, CT/North Haven) and Lix Axler(Huntington, NY/Walt Whitman), 9-8 (7-5), and the #3 pair of Aimee Lim (New City, NY/Clarkstown South) and Kathryn Wheatley (Ancaster, Ontario/Ancaster) tripped Michelle Nagle (Hawthorne, NJ/Hawthorne) and Heather Rahm (San Diego, CA/Torrey Pines), 8-6. In singles action, Lim put an end to the match with a3-6, 6-1, 6-0 triumph over Axler at the #5 flight. While Quinnipiac has played worthy foil to the UMBC women the last few seasons, the #1 seeded UMBC men’s team had not been seriously challenged in its two previous NEC title appearances. Fairleigh Dickinson parlayed a strong late season run into a #2 seed in the tournament and eased into the title picture with a 4-0blanking of upstart Wagner - the #6 seed - in the semifinals. UMBC had no trouble downing #4 Monmouth, 4-0, to complete the championship bracket. In the title match, the Retrievers took the doubles point and then cruised to three straight set victories, dropping just five games along the way. The most impressiveperformance was turned in by #6 flight player Luis Baraldi (Fort Lauderdale, FL/Cardinal Gibbons), who overwhelmed the Knights’ Paul Wawrynek (Brooklyn, NY/Xaverian), 6-0, 6-0, while #3 Mikhail Kouznetsov (Moscow, Russia/Fort Lauderdale Prep) defeated George Green (Leeds, England/Notre Dame Sixth), 6-1,6-2, and #4 Dimitri Bondar (Ontario, Canada/Northview Secondary) clipped David Wagreich (Old Bridge, NJ/Old Bridge), 6-1, 6-1. In consolation matches, Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis (PA) tied for fifth place on the women’s side. The Knights dropped Wagner, 4-1, while the Red Flash knocked off Sacred Heart, 4-3. St. Francis (NY) and Mount St. Mary’s tied for ninth place following the Terriers’ 4-0 shutout of Central Connecticut State andthe Mount’s 4-1 victory against Robert Morris. In the men’s bracket, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart shared fifth place as QU beat Robert Morris, 4-0, and the Pioneers topped Central Connecticut State, 4-0. St. Francis (PA) won the ninth place match, defeating Mount St. Mary’s, 4-3. UMBC now advances to the NCAA Tournament as the NEC’s automatic qualifier for both men and women. Men’s first and second round NCAA competition commences on May 11, while NCAA regionals for women begin on May 10.