JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After four days, three matches and numerous weather delays, the Stetson University women’s tennis team finished out the 2014 Atlantic Sun Championship, with a valiant run to the conference’s title match, dropping the decider, 4-0 to No. 2 ETSU.
On their way to the main event, the Hatters defeated No. 5 Mercer, then upset No. 1 and tournament host UNF on its home courts, before succumbing to the Bucs in the championship final.
Stetson began play Sunday, picking up where it had left off with its semifinals match against No. 1 North Florida on Saturday. The fourth seeded Hatters took a 1-0 advantage after winning two of three during doubles play against the Ospreys, but waited out a lengthy rain delay before having to postpone the conclusion of the contest to Sunday morning.
After dropping the first doubles match with UNF, Saturday on court No. 1, Stetson surged back, taking match-ups on courts No. 3 and 2 for the first team point. Andrea Crespo and Isabella Fernandez clinched the doubles point for the team, while the pairing of Eveline Lepinay and Lindsay Cable put SU on the board.
When play resumed Sunday morning, North Florida tied the score up at 1-1 with a win on court No. 4, but then the Hatters reeled off two straight victories on courts No. 5 and 2 with decisions from Lepinay (6-1, 6-4) and Crespo (7-5, 6-3), to make it 3-1.
Determined not to be defeated on their home courts, the Ospreys fought back, taking singles matches on courts No. 1 and 3 to even the team score at 3-3, leaving the match and the season on the shoulders of those playing on the sixth court.
That’s where unanimous A-Sun All-Freshman Team selection Carolina Meregalli edged UNF’s Rebecca Pereira in a three-set thriller, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 to cap off the upset.
The win against North Florida was a significant achievement for the Stetson program as it marked two firsts in program history. It was the first time the Hatter women defeated a nationally ranked opponent, as UNF entered the tournament, ranked 75th in the nation. It was also the first time they had beaten the Ospreys in 15 previous attempts as a conference opponent, including an A-Sun semifinals match-up in 2010.
Now having reached the A-Sun Championship Final for the first time in five seasons, Stetson had just hours to rest and focus its attention on No. 2 ETSU, who defeated No. 3 Florida Gulf Coast, 4-1 in the other semifinals match.
The Hatters and Buccaneers began play at 4:15 p.m., a little more than two hours after Stetson’s stunning 4-3 upset of No. 1 North Florida concluded.
The Bucs started off doubles play in the championship match with wins on courts No. 1 and 2 to clinch the team point and go up 1-0. ETSU would not look back at that point, claiming decisions on courts No. 4, 2 and then 1 in singles play to put forth the deciding team point and take the conference title by a 4-0 score.
Stetson finished the year at 18-6, with a 5-3 mark in the Atlantic Sun. The 18 wins by SU ties the program record for the most in a season and it's. 750 winning percentage surpasses the old record of. 739, set during the 2010 season (17-6). The last time the Hatters reached the conference championship final was back in 2009, when they were defeated by the same ETSU squad, 4-2.
For their efforts during the championship, Stetson’s Diana Bukajeva and Meregalli were named to the All-Tournament team. The pair of Hatters joined a trio from the A-Sun champion Bucs and one player from FGCU to make up the best the tournament had to offer in Jacksonville.