Barry Claims 3rd Straight Women's Tennis SSC Title

Barry Claims 3rd Straight Women's Tennis SSC Title
Barry won its third straight SSC Championship Sunday. Photo by Jim McCurdy

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Julie Stas, Caroline Wendling and Akemi Maehama couldn't decide which court to rush.

With Mona Mansour and Olivia Matuszak both closing in on the clinching point, the Buccaneers trio were whipping their heads back and forth from court to court in anticipation of where to celebrate.

"I wanted to run on the court, but I couldn't," Wendling said. "It's very exciting, but it's stressful, too. My heart was beating so fast. I couldn't wait anymore."

Matuszak, who had won twice earlier in the tournament, had three match points to wrap it up. But Mansour, the Swedish sophomore, assumed the closer's role on this day, beating Ana Kriz, 6-3, 6-1, at No. 5 singles to clinch No. 2 Barry's third straight Florida Blue Sunshine State Conference championship with a 5-2 win over No. 4 Lynn Sunday at Beerman Tennis Center.

It was the women's program's sixth league title, and the university athletic program's 49th overall.

"Each conference championship is special in its own way," Bucs coach Avi Kigel said.  "Different roads to get here. This year the road was tough. It was tough for everyone. But we were able to keep our concentration and put forth a great effort. It was a great win against a great Lynn team."

Barry will host an NCAA Tournament regional next Sunday and Monday in Miami Shores. The pairings will be announced on the Women's Tennis Selection Show at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday on

"They understand what it takes to win championships," Barry assistant coach Maria Lopez said. "They've really come through the whole season doing that, preparing the right way, making the right choices, especially when postseason starts.

"I think we have a pretty good mix of personalities, but they all have this goofy side to them. They're serious on the court, they get their work done, but outside the court there's that kid's part of them that keeps them alive. We always need that balance.

"The girls have really stepped it up. They know they have to give just a little bit more, and put a little bit more heart, a little bit more passion into every match. They really know they've got to do everything the right way, and they've done a great job doing that. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard enough. They do have the talent, but I think it's a lot more hard work."

Barry (22-0) won the first point when Stas and Matuszak beat Kriz and Roxane Alexandru at No. 2 doubles, 8-1. Lynn's Ioana Ivan and Sabine Kraus, ranked third in the country, tied the match at 1-1 with an 8-2 win over Mansour and Cristina Valladares at the No. 1 flight.

Down 5-2, Wendling and Linda Fritschken rallied to knot their No. 3 doubles match with Andrea Berkova and Kim Przeszlowski at 6-6.

"I was saying to Linda, 'We can't lose the doubles,'" Wendling said.

Barry's duo went ahead 7-6 before Lynn tied it back up. The Bucs then jumped back ahead 8-7, only to have the Fighting Knights take the next game to send the match into a tiebreaker. Fritschken won a pair of backhand winners at the net, and Wendling forced Lynn into a couple precarious shots as Barry ran to a 7-1 tiebreak win to push the Bucs up 2-1 in the match.

"They just showed a lot of resilience, coming back from 5-2," Kigel said. "They just kept fighting and fighting. We wanted it a little bit more than them. That's what the Barry team is all about. We're tough. We're not gonna give up. You've got to beat us."

That's not part of the Bucs vocabulary, though -- allowing an opponent to walk in and just take over. No matter how steep the slope is. But after a couple close calls at No. 3 doubles in the semifinals and finals, Barry certainly experienced its share of tension-filled anxiety.

"I think I was about to have a heart attack, and it's just conference," Stas said with her customary Belgian laugh.

"If we were 1-2 down, then on my part, I would've had more pressure (in singles)," Wendling said. "And I think the other girls would've been the same. They would've been more tight. Even though we could do it, of course, that would've been more pressure. We gave the best we could. We fought to the end, and luckily it worked out."

Wendling wasted little time taking care of business in singles as she beat Alexandru, 6-0, 6-3, at the No. 6 spot to move the Buccaneers within two points of clinching the title.

"It means a lot to me. I'm very, very happy that we won and I won because it's my last conference, and I wanted to contribute to help this team win," Wendling said. "The feeling that I have is the best right now."

Stas did her part as well with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Przeszlowski at No. 3.

"When I arrived here, i didn't even know what it meant to win conference," Stas said. "In the beginning, it's nice to play on a team, and when you get in conference you realize how important it is to win championships.

"I'm really happy that I contributed for the team. I'm happy for myself, but I'm even more happy for the team. I'm happy to make them happy, and it's always nice to win doubles and singles. It couldn't be better than to do it in my senior year. Today, I just wanted the team to win. If it was me, I'm happy, but if it was someone else, I would've been as happy, honestly."

Ivan, ranked No. 3 in the country, won the No. 1 singles flight to pull Lynn (18-4) within 4-2. But Mansour, who was points away from clinching earlier in the tournament when Sarah Krohnen secured the quarterfinal victory, added the finishing touches to this year's title.

"Each year is exactly as special as the year before," Mansour said. "Being a part of it this year with these girls, which are my closest friends here, too, makes it even better. The coaches and all of us players know how hard we were working for this, and being able to accomplish it is just amazing.

"I wanted to close this one today, and I was able to do that, so I'm happy about that. Even if Olivia would've closed it, I would've been exactly as happy running to her court and celebrating that we won together as a team.

"Now we're just moving on. Our goal is to win regionals and try to win nationals one more time. It's gonna be hard like last year, but we have a very good chance."

With a trust in each other, this is the time of the season that brings out the best in the Bucs.

"I think we are very confident," Stas said. "By winning today, 5-2 against Lynn, gives us more confidence. We have a great team with great players, and I think everybody is very motivated to win another national championship. We have great coaches and great players, so I think it's possible. I really believe it."