BLACKSBURG (Va.) — The West Virginia Wesleyan men's tennis team saw their season come to an end Sunday at the hands of top-seeded Bluefield State College, as the Big Blues closed out a thrilling 4-2 victory in the NCAA Atlantic Region I Championship match.
Bluefield State's Artur Figuerre was the clincher for the Big Blues, nailing down the final point with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Lukas Laipold at No. 1 singles.
The match lasted just over three hours and was Wesleyan's second long dual in consecutive days after dropping their rival University of Charleston in Saturday's first round.
Bluefield State received a bye as the host and top seed.
“This was a tough one to be on the losing end for," said Wesleyan coach Marc Walters, who is still looking for career win number one against his regional nemesis. “We have been trying to close the gap on these guys for eight years, and this felt like we had a legitimate shot at winning today. We came out strong in doubles and were resilient in singles all day. Our guys really extended themselves, and I am so proud of their resolve.”
Walters went on to congratulate the Big Blues for their effort and sportsmanship.
“(Bluefield State) Coach Louis Belt and their guys are a class act, and they won a great college tennis match today. For sure, we hate losing, but when it goes like that you are happier when you know the other team is worthy and works as hard as you do.”
Trailing throughout the early stages of the dual after losing the doubles point, Bluefield State regrouped to take the first two singles matches to come off the court at No. 5 and No. 6 in straight sets, and held one-set leads in two of the others.
Wesleyan won the first set at No. 1 and No. 3 while Bluefield State held the same advantage at No. 2 and No. 5.
Wesleyan stormed back to take the middle sets at No. 2 and No. 5, and Bluefield answered that salvo by splitting at No. 1 and battling back from 5-2 down at No. 3 singles to take a 6-5 lead in set two.
Bobcat sophomore Carlos Dodero clinched his come-from-behind win at No. 2 by breaking serve for a 0-6, 6-4, 6-3 decision and draw the 'Cats even at 2-2 in the team score.
Dodero lost the first set in under 20 minutes, dealing with a barrage of service winners and balistic returns from BSC's Fredrik Bau Madsen. But Dodero steadied himself and got back into the second set early, and then slowly crept back into his match before getting the momentum. Dodero led 5-1 at one point in set three, before closing it out.
“Carlos was clutch for us today and yesterday, and was easy to coach," said Walters of his Spanish transfer. "He made a couple adjustments and just dug in, and just turned that thing around to look like he was in charge. It was a tremendous effort for his team."
Meanwhile, BSC senior Giorgi Datashvili sprinted away from WVWC's Harry Simaioforidis at No. 5 to seal a 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 win and put the Big Blues on the doorstep for the match. Simaioforidis might have lost, but his second set win was important for his team's momentum, and was the first set taken off Datashvili by a Bobcat player in four years and eight total matches.
While Maycon Santos Dias battled back to enter a tie-break in his No. 3 singles, all eyes fell on Lukas Laipold's No. 1 match with BSC's Artur Figuerre who led their match 5-4 in the third set. After Figuerre rifled two forehand winners up the line in the final game to gain match points, he finished off the win, and Bobcats, with a cross court combination that Laipold just could not run down.
“We might have lost, but we really feel we have earned the level to stay on the court with these guys this year," said Walters of BSC. “Bluefield State raises the bar for everyone in our region, and is the biggest reason why we have been having national level success here the past two years. They have earned everyone in our region the respect and acknowledgment of the national DII tennis coaching world.”
Bluefield State, currently ranked #34 in the nation by the ITA, makes their eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA Sweet 16, which will be held May 21-27 in Altamonte Springs, Florida.
Wesleyan ends the year at 17-8, having fallen in the Round of 32 for the third consecutive season.
The Bobcats, who reached a high ITA ranking of No. 42 this year, have not been past the second round since 2013, Walter's first year at the helm.