Three's a Crowd: Men's Tennis Crowned SSC Champs

Three's a Crowd: Men's Tennis Crowned SSC Champs
Barry U men's tennis won its third straight SSC Tournament title for the third time in school history. Photo by Jim Hogue

WINTER PARK, Fla. – Barry University men’s tennis team won its third straight Sunshine State Conference Tournament title Saturday, beating Lynn, 5-2, at Rollins College.

It was the No. 2-ranked Buccaneers 11th league tournament title overall. Barry improved to 21-2 this season, while the No. 8 Fighting Knights fell to 14-6.

“We didn’t think it was going to be a hands-down win for us,” Buccaneers 23-year head coach George Samuel said. “Today (Lynn) proved that. We had a tough time winning a doubles point. Every match was head to head. Nobody was really leading on our team. We could’ve lost all three. When it really got tight, the guys really stepped up and really came through.”

Indeed, the Bucs’ championship didn’t come without its share of edge-of-your-seat battles, beginning with all three doubles matches. At No. 1, Barry’s Ollie Lemaitre and Ahmed Triki, the No. 3-ranked pairs team in the country and top-ranked duo in the South Region, prevailed in a 9-7 dogfight with the South’s No. 3-ranked tandem of Daniel Riggs and Paolo Volpocelli to send the Buccaneers into singles with a 2-1 lead.

“That was a good feeling to be up 2-1 after that, but it wasn’t that easy,” Samuel said.

Lemaitre’s doubles win moved him within one of tying Marco Mokrzycki’s school record of 79 set last year in the NCAA Division II Championships title match victory over Armstrong Atlantic. Lemaitre is a senior from Noumea, New Caledonia.

Barry’s No. 3 doubles team of Renato Lombardi and Fabian Groetsch also withstood Lynn’s best, holding on for another 9-7 triumph – this one over Tomas Porkop and Alessio Iannozzi. The win was the first of the day for the Bucs. Lynn’s Vlad Cirla and Pavel Mojha squared the match at 1-1 when they outlasted Romain Costamagna and Leo Vivas, 8-6, at the No. 2 spot.

Lombardi and Groetsch were up 4-1 before losing four straight games to go down, 5-4. But the Bucs recently reassembled pair responded to fight back.

“It was an important moment,” Lombardi said. “It could have gone the other way.”

Groetsch had not played with Lombardi since March 11. But the move was necessitated after Lombardi’s regular partner, Kevin Sielmann, became ill within the past week. Groetsch, an All-American in doubles a year ago and one of the members of the top-ranked duo in the nation at season’s end in 2013, has played three doubles matches in the last two weeks – two of them at the SSC Championships.

“We played pretty good together,” Lombardi said. “Fabian was able to gain back some of his confidence. It showed today on the court. It was good chemistry. Ollie and Ahmed played good together, too.  The two doubles that we won were really important.”

“We never put Fabian out of the loop,” Samuel said. “Kevin and Renato were doing very well. When Kevin couldn’t play, to me, the next one in line is Fabian. When it came to when we needed him, he stepped up to the plate. They gelled together well, and were good enough to win that point.”

Lombardi delivered again in singles, beating Iannozzi, 6-1, 6-2, to give Barry a 3-1 lead. His win avenged his only loss of the season – a third-set super tiebreaker defeat to Iannozzi at home on April 6.

“It’s huge to all of a sudden take the first point in singles,” Samuel said. “The more points you get, the more comfortable you get across the board. Renato, I’m proud of him. He’s really stepped up this year. This year he’s got it going for him, and he’s focused.”

Porkop, the No. 37-ranked singles player in the nation, beat Costamagna, 6-0, 6-2, at No. 3 to pull the Knights within one, 3-2. Then, with the eighth-ranked Triki trailing 17th-ranked Cirla, 5-1, in the first set at No. 1 singles, Lynn was building momentum. But Triki rallied to win the first set tiebreaker, claiming six of the last seven games before eventually prevailing, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2. The win moved Barry within a point of clinching the title.

“You’ve got to go where you feel you have the most potential in the matches unfolding,” Samuel said, rationalizing how he exerted his coaching support at that point in the match. “Ahmed, he can make the game long. He showed that again, as he was able to win that tiebreaker. Once that happens, the match shifted to Ahmed. Once he won the breaker, I stuck around his match. I think our fitness is a factor here. The longer we stay out, typically the stronger we can get.”

The Bucs and Fighting Knights were playing in roughly 90 degrees – the highest temperature Barry has competed in this year.

With the 11th-ranked Groetsch and 36th-ranked Riggs entrenched in a third-set battle at No. 2 – each having won a set in similar fashion – and Barry’s Nico Dreer closing in on a win at No. 4 singles after responding from an opening-set loss with a 6-love sweep of Mojha in the second before taking a 4-2 lead in the third, Vivas reverted to his customary dramatics.

“It’s true. He loves it,” Lombardi said.

Vivas found himself in a third-set predicament against Volpocelli. After winning the first, 6-2, the Bucs senior from Caracas, Venezuela, dropped the second, 6-3. But Vivas, affectionately known as “El Presidente,” bounced back in the third set to win, 6-2, sealing the deal for the match-clinching fifth point.

“He played really good in the third set under pressure,” Lombardi said in his observation-oriented spectator mode. “In the third set, he came through.”

Winning a third straight title meant incentive for the Buccaneers, who’ve won three consecutive league tourney titles on three occasions – all under Samuel’s clock.

“(Now we) just have to keep going and try it again next year, and see how many we can collect,” Lombardi said.

The Buccaneers likely will host one of two NCAA South Regionals next weekend at Buccaneer Tennis Center, following the completion of finals in the classroom. The thought of coming home for at least a week, where they can devote their time to finishing the semester off strong academically and committing themselves on the court is the goal Barry shoots for at this time of year.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Lombardi, who’s in his second go-around with the Bucs entering high-stakes mode. “We’re going to just practice hard for a week to get ready for the regionals.”

“It’s always a great feeling to play at home,” Samuel added. “We have all the support system. There’s a lot of factors that go with it. Being on the road is not so bad, either. At the same time, you’ve got to stay sharp. It could be Lynn again (who we may play). To beat a team three times in a row, it takes persistence and a lot of hard work. We’ve got to finish the job at regionals, and hopefully move on.”­­