NCAA Championships: D2 Nova Southeastern women, D3 Tufts men reach 1st national final
A high-stakes Monday at the USTA National Campus saw the NCAA Championships continue with the semifinals in both the Division II women's competition and the Division III men's tournament, before the Barry University men claimed the first national title of the year in the evening's Division II final.
Both the Nova Southeastern women (D2) and the Tufts men (D3) advanced to their first NCAA final, setting up title showdowns against Barry University and Case Western University, respectively.
The Nova Southeastern Sharks from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., battled back against Hawaii Pacific, earning a 4-2 win after dropping the doubles point. Graduate student Fatima Bizhukova clinched the victory with a 6-4, 7-6 decision at No. 4 singles as her team swept the No. 2 through No. 5 spots in singles play.
“I'm so happy. I have no words to be honest, because I clinched the match," Bizhukova said. "Usually, I'm a very calm person, but right now it just feels unreal.
“I think for us, not only this match, but just the whole season, we're always together and we fight for each other. And honestly, when I was at my match and I was down, I was always down, I was coming back. I was always thinking about the girls. I was thinking how much we want it—all of us, coaches, our athletic trainer, psychologist, all of us. We just wanted it so much and we're never going to give up.”
The five-time defending champion Barry women had an easier time in their semifinal as they advanced to their sixth straight NCAA final with a 4-0 sweep of fellow Florida school Flagler.
Now 27-0, the Buccaneers will take a program-recrod 89-match winning streak into Tuesday night's final, with first serve set for 6 p.m.
Both of the men's Division III semifinals came down to the final match, with Tufts and the undefeated Case Western advancing to the title round with a pair of dramatic, 5-4 victories.
Tufts, seeded second, overcame a 2-1 deficit after doubles to beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps with singles wins at No. 2, 3, 5 and 6. Freshman Alex Ganchev of Bulgaria scored a 6-4, 7-5 win at No. 3 to finish the job, battling back from 5-3 down in the second set as he handled the pressure of the deciding match.
“You try to not think about it honestly, because if not, it will get in your head, you feel the pressure and then you might crumble," he said of being the final match to finish. "So what I tried to do is stay present, take deep breaths, focus point by point, and I hope for the best and just go for it.”
After a semifinal loss to eventual champions Chicago last season, Tufts used the lessons learned to go one step further this year.
“I think being here last year was huge," Jumbos head coach Karl Gregor said. "They really saw what it takes. It’s all about grit, determination and fighting every point. And this year, they were just more prepared. They knew what they had in front of them.”
Case Western edged Middlebury to reach the D3 final for the third straight year in its bid for a first national title. Junior Vishwa Aduru clinched the win for the Spartans at No. 2 singles via a final-set tiebreak, with the Austin, Texas, native defeating Aidan Harris, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) in a match that was emblamatic of the semifinal as a whole.
Just as the Spartans battled back after dropping the doubles point, Aduru showed his fighting spirit to come back from a set and a break down. Both players required medical timeouts late in the final set, with Aduru receiving treatment on his right arm and Harris having his leg worked on. Aduru used some big forehands late in the match to come out on top in this battle of attrition, sparking celebrations for CWRU and their fans after more than four hours of play in the dual match.
Aduru and No. 1 singles star James Hopper—who is set to transfer to Divison I Virginia for his graduate season next year—will hope to lead Case Western with wins in the top two spots again in Tuesday night's final against Tufts. That match is also set for 6 p.m.
For more information, including tickets, draws and schedule, visit the USTA's NCAA Championships homepage. For all the latest news from the Division I, II and III tournaments, visit USTA.com's news landing page for the event.