Augustana Advances To Regional Championship
As the No. 2 seed and host, The Vikings notched their 25th win of the season while the Hornets’ first-ever NCAA tournament appearance ended abruptly and they finish the 2014 season with a 16-9 record.
Augustana now hosts No. 3 seed Northeastern State who defeated sixth-seeded Nebraska-Kearney 6-1 in the second semifinal.
The Vikings hosted a portion of the Central Region championships for the second time in three years and performed well in front of the home crowd.
“We are obviously comfortable on our courts and in our surroundings so we definitely see that as an advantage,” head coach Marc Kurtz said after earning his third NCAA postseason victory. “It’s nice to be able to relax in a familiar environment and we have a lot of family and fans here to support us which always energizes our team.”
The Vikings’ dominant doubles play carried over to the first round of the Central Region 2 tournament, but not without a bit of drama. Augustana’s No. 2 pairing opened up a substantial lead with early breaks and the tandem of Christine Olivo and Heather Sullivan then carried their lead to an 8-4 win, the first for the Vikings on Saturday morning.
Katie Jesperson and Jessa Richards entered the regional boasting the No. 2 doubles ranking in the region according to the latest ITA release and they showed it early. The undefeated doubles pairing hopped out to a big lead, but the Emporia State’s No. 1 doubles pairing fought back. Jesperson’s serve was broken twice, but Richards countered with strong net play and the Vikings prevailed 8-5 for a two-pointlead in the team score.
Augustana’s No. 3 pairing of Jenna Helleberg and Meredith Lawrence came into the regional on a 15-match winning streak, including a pair of shutout wins in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament most recently. ESU’s No. 3 pairing of Somer Schmidt and Amy Fugit fought off an early deficit to get the match back on serve at 4-3. From there on it was all Helleberg and Lawrence as the Viking duo picked up their 16th straight victory and pushing Augustana’s lead to 3-0 with an 8-4 win.
Singles action opened with Augustana taking an early lead in all but one matche, but the Hornets battled back to send four of the six first sets into a tiebreak. Consistent as she was all NSIC tournament, Lawrence avoided ESU’s surge and gave the Vikings their first victory with a 6-1, 6-4 decision at No. 6 singles.
“Meredith is just solid” Kurtz said. “She is a fighter, a real competitor. She doesn’t give her opponent anything to hit. She battles and, as a freshman, that is really nice to have.”
As the singles matches continued, Richards steadily wore her opponent down at No. 2 singles. The sophomore held on for a first-set win then earned to key breaks for the match-clinching 6-4, 6-4 win.
“Jessa fought and had to work for this win,” Kurtz said. “Her opponent made her work really hard and Jessa was capable of competing and earned a big win for us.”
Augustana held a one-set lead in the three of the four unfinished matches, needing a couple of tiebreakers to keep their advantagees. Jesperson won her first set 6-4, then was on serve in the second set at 5-4 before Richards gave the Vikings their first regional win in three years.
Francesca Beg built a lead and withstood a spirited comeback by her opponent which forced a tiebreaker. The Westbury, England import came away with a 7-6 (7-5) first-set win and held a 3-1 advantage before the match was called.
In a back-and-forth No. 4 singles match, Olivo was the only Viking to lose her first set, unable to edge out a win in the tiebreaker. Olivo dropped the first set 6-7 (3-7) then used an early break to build a 2-0 lead in the second that was discontinued.
Helleberg looked to be on the fast lane to providing Augustana with one of the necessary singles wins, but her opponent erased the to force a tiebreaker. Helleberg then halted Schmidt’s upset bid with a 7-6 (7-4) win in the first set and led 4-2 as Richards earned the fifth Viking win.
Augustana looks to earn their second trip in four years to the NCAA Championships when they take on third seed Northeastern State on Sunday, May 4 at 12 p.m. at Huether Tennis Centre.
Courtesy: Augustana College