BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Call it a milestone mark. That's what Barry University women's tennis team achieved in winning its fourth straight Sunshine State Conference Championship in Saturday's 5-1 win over Saint Leo.
It marked the university's 50th SSC title in all sports.
"It feels great," Bucs freshman Elisabeth Abanda said after beating Coraline Pesenti, 6-0, 6-2, at No. 1 singles. "When you expect it too much, your level goes down. We knew Saint Leo would show up."
That the seventh-ranked Lions (17-5) did in causing fits for the second-ranked Buccaneers (24-0) in pairs play. After Abanda and Emma Onila, the 11th-ranked doubles team in NCAA Division II, beat Maria Benkirane and Pauline Helgesson, 8-4, at the No. 1 flight in a match the Bucs had to come back from early, Saint Leo kept Barry on its heels in the other two matches.
Karina Goia and Isabela Miro were down 4-3 at No. 3 doubles to Pesenti and Adrianna Daszkiewicz, but Miro hammered away a winner at the net to tie it at 4-4. The Bucs tandem won another game to pull ahead, but the Lions duo bounced back to take a 7-6 lead.
Both teams swapped the next two games, giving Saint Leo an 8-7 lead. But Goia and Miro won the 16th game to send the match to a tiebreaker. Barry's pair charged to a 5-2 lead before putting the Lions duo away, 7-2 in the tiebreaker. That gave the Bucs a 2-0 lead.
Linda Fritschken and Kimmy Twelker trailed, 4-1, to Emily Singleton and Laura Kemkes at No. 2 doubles, but the Bucs duo won three of the next four games to pull within 5-4. Fritschken and Twelker tied the match at 6-6 before the Lions pair won the next game. When Fritschken pounded away a ball at the net after a long rally in the 14th game, the Bucs knotted the match at 7-7.
Singleton and Kemkes won the next game to move within one of clinching, but Fritschken ripped a backhand down the line to send the match into a tiebreaker. But Kemkes and Singleton withstood the Bucs duo in the match in the tiebreaker, winning, 7-4, to cut the deficit to 2-1.
"I think we were all strong in doubles," Abanda said. "We lost just one doubles match in three days, so that's pretty good."
The one loss, of course, was decided in a tiebreaker.
Onila, ranked 41st in the nation, delivered Barry's first singles victory when she made quick work of Helgesson to win the No. 2 flight, 6-0, 6-2. That moved the Bucs within two points of clinching.
Twelker, who labored through another physical battle following an arduous doubles match, put the Buccaneers ahead 4-1 with a 6-0, 6-3 No. 5 victory over Singleton.
"I was fighting some injuries, and I'm constantly in a lot of pain," Twelker said. "I could hardly walk after doubles. (Head coach) Avi (Kigel) told me to give my best. I gave my best, and then I won my match. It feels awesome. I didn't expect that my match was that important."
Still, Barry needed another victory to secure another league crown. In many ways, it was a matter of semantics. The Bucs were up a set in each of the other singles matches. Akemi Maehama won the opening set, 6-2, over Phoebe Di Leo at No. 6. Goia claimed the first set, 6-3, in the No. 4 flight with Benkirane. Fritschken, ranked 33rd in the country, won the first set against Daszkiewicz, 6-2.
But Abanda, the 28th-ranked singles player in the country, rose to the occasion, putting away the 37th-ranked Pesenti in straight sets.
"It was a whole completely different world for me," Abanda said, despite coming off the high from the doubles win. "I had played against this girl before, so I knew how to play her. This match, I was really patient with my game. That's what I was pleased with, and being able to control the match."
The Buccaneers control their destiny as they begin the NCAA National Tournament, where they are all but certain to host one of the two South Regionals at Buccaneer Tennis Center in Miami Shores next Saturday and Sunday. The NCAA pairings will be revealed Tuesday night.
"We train really, really hard, every single girl," Twelker said. "(Assistant coach) Maria (Lopez) and Avi push us. It's just an awesome feeling. It's just amazing to know the hard work pays off."