What has made coach Chris Powers proudest of his Coastal Carolina men’s tennis team this spring is its resilience and will to consistently battle back.
And there was no better example of that than Saturday as the Chanticleers rallied for a 4-3 win over Presbyterian in the Big South finals in Lynchburg, Va., to claim the conference championship and earn their return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013.
Senior Pedro Leme lost the first set in what proved to be the decisive match at No. 3 singles before coming back to win 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 over Presbyterian’s Danny Bruce at No. 3 singles to swing the final point to the Chants.
“We were a boxer on the ropes and we were being pummeled and somehow, someway we got back to the chair, we regrouped and we came out swinging,” Powers said. “And not only did we go the distance, we ended up turning the fight around and getting the championship in the end. It’s the most amazing college tennis match I’ve ever been a part of.”
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Coastal Carolina also got wins at No. 1 singles from junior Jabor Al-Mutawa (1-6, 7-5, 6-0), at No. 2 singles from junior Vuk Velickovic (6-2, 6-3) and at No. 6 singles from freshman Luiz Faria (2-6, 6-4, 6-2).
Presbyterian took the doubles point and led 3-1 before Al-Mutawa, who faced three match points, and Faria quickly tied it up with their come-from-behind wins.
In the end all eyes were on Leme, who transferred into the program from Pepperdine before last season.
“He’s been a go-to guy this season,” Powers said. “When I brought Pedro to Coastal, I had a premonition that Pedro would be the guy who would clinch a championship for us. He had such a struggle in his first year, but it was always in the back of my mind that he was going to be the guy that gets it done.”
The NCAA tournament doesn’t begin until May 14.
This marks the third time the Chants have won the Big South’s regular-season and tournament titles in the same year along with 1994 and 2013.
Men’s golf hopeful heading into Big South tournament
Judging strictly by its results this spring, the Coastal Carolina men’s golf team has the look of an underdog as the Big South tournament gets underway Sunday.
But coach Kevin McPherson says he, for one, wouldn’t be surprised at all if his Chants found a way to put themselves in contention for a championship.
That’s the hope, at least, as the Chants head to the 54-hole tournament at The Patriot Golf Club in Ninety-Six, S.C., looking to win their way into the NCAA regionals.
“We have really nothing to lose and we have everything to gain,” McPherson said. “This is our opportunity to punch a ticket to get into regionals knowing that second place is not going to cut it. So you go big or you go home, so hopefully we go big and get an opportunity to play in a regional.”
The Chants’ best finish during the spring season was a 10th-place showing (out of 16 teams) last week at the Coca-Cola Wofford Invite in Spartanburg.
But McPherson has seen enough encouraging signs this season to believe that his team can match up with its conference foes in the program’s final Big South tournament before moving to the Sun Belt next year.
“This year I think there’s a few teams that stand out,” he said. “I think Charleston Southern has been playing really well. We haven’t seen Campbell this year really, and Liberty we’ve played them maybe three or four events this year. ... We’ve had days and rounds where we show we’re capable of beating Charleston Southern, we’re capable of beating Liberty and I think that’s probably our toughest competition.”
Coastal Carolina held a three-man competition Friday for two spots to round out its five-golfer lineup this week.
Junior Alfredo Ruiz, freshman Luis Ruiz and sophomore Thadd Obecny II were locks while juniors Olle Widegren and Ryan Carpenter earned the final two spots.
“It was awesome. They played extremely well. They were very competitive and it was a lot of fun to be out there putting them under pressure the day before we go to the tournament,” McPherson said.
Football schedule change
Coastal Carolina has made a tweak to its 2016 football schedule, moving its game at Gardner-Webb back a week to Oct. 15 while its open date moves to Oct. 8.
The change was agreed to as part of some shuffling by the Big South Conference to accommodate Monmouth, Chants athletic director Matt Hogue said.
While the Chants are no longer in the Big South, they are still playing most of the conference teams next season during their final year in the FCS.
▪ The Chants’ women’s lacrosse team scored a 14-6 win over Longwood on Saturday during its Senior Day at Brooks Stadium.
Junior midfielder Maggie Carr (two goals and five assists) led the way and set a program single-season record for assists with 21.
The Chants have won four of their last five games to improve to 8-5 overall.
▪ The Coastal Carolina softball team takes a four-game winning streak into a three-game series at Campbell on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Chants have won 11 of their last 13 games to improve to 26-19 overall and 9-5 in the Big South.
▪ The men’s and women’s track and field teams competed Friday in High Point, N.C., against Big South foes Liberty and High Point.
With the conference meet less than a month away, the Coastal Carolina men placed second behind Liberty while the women finished third.