MOBILE, Ala. – The Georgia Gwinnett College women’s tennis team found itself in unfamiliar territory, trailing for the first time in postseason play, and had to grind through its singles matches to claim the 2021 NAIA national championship with a 4-2 victory against Keiser University (Florida) on Saturday at the Mobile Tennis Center.
GGC has now won five straight NAIA national championships and six titles overall since 2014. The top-seeded team has a 27-1 match record all-time in postseason play and has played in the title match each season of postseason eligibility.
Keiser, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, won the last two doubles matches to grab an early 1-0 lead in the championship match. GGC’s freshmen doubles team of Iryna Lysykh and Ale Ferrer won all six games to capture the No. 3 match.
However, the Seahawks held leads on the No. 1 and No. 2 courts. Sophomore Tereza Koplova and freshman Selina Pichler got a break of serve to force a tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles. Keiser’s team of Alisha Hussian and Maissane Aik came out on top after winning that tiebreaker by a 7-2 score. The Florida opponent took advantage of its early 4-0 lead to win the No. 2 match 7-5 and earn a 1-0 advantage.
“The girls just found a way to win the match. It was a hard-fought win and I am super proud of the team,” said Head Coach Chase Hodges.
That put pressure on the singles matches with the Grizzlies (23-0) being up to the challenge.
Lysykh won her first six games for a 6-0, 6-4 straight-set victory on the No. 4 court to tie the match.
“Being the first point off the scoreboard was big because it gave us momentum and positive energy,” stated Lysykh, who was named the championship’s most outstanding player.
Keiser regained the lead, 2-1, with a straight-set victory from Hussian at No. 3 singles.
Moments later, GGC junior Maria Genovese won by identical 6-2 set scores over Camilla Abatte on the No. 1 court to once again square the match.
The Grizzlies would win the final two matches in dramatic fashion.
“Getting’s Iryna’s win in quick fashion was the change of momentum we were looking for,” stated Hodges. “That was a big key for us and gave our players belief.”
Freshman Marta Maestro captured the first set from Lisa Klamassi at No. 6 singles. She maintained her strong play during the second set until a late push from Klamassi squared the set at 5-5. But the first-time national champion participant seized the opportunity during a return game and got a key break to go back out in front 6-5. Maestro served out the match to win 6-3, 7-5.
“Winning that first set, I knew that she (Klamassi) would make a push in the second. I continued to play my forehand. I am so happy to help the team win the national title,” said Maestro.
Maestro’s victory put the Grizzlies on the brink of the championship, with another freshman, Ferrer, taking center stage. The left hander rebounded on the No. 5 court after dropping the first set 6-3 to claim the second by a 6-2 score. The Grizzlies’ player maintained her strong play by getting a service break to take a 3-1 lead. A service hold was followed by another break of serve to stretch Ferrer’s advantage to 5-1.
The freshman battled back from a 15-40 score in her service game and induced Keiser’s Isabba Perez to miss long for the match-clinching point.
“It was amazing to have the support from my teammates during this match. I cut down my mistakes and wanted to keep the rallies long,” said Ferrer. “When I saw her miss (for the match-clinching point), I got so excited and my teammates came running toward me. We prepared for this moment. Everybody on our team contributed to this victory and national championship.”
Koplova was the only player on GGC’s 2020-21 team roster that had experienced the emotions of winning a national championship, and that title had come in 2019. Five players in both singles and doubles lineups were in their first national championship tournament.
“For Ale and Marta to step up the way they did was incredible. Our newcomers just refused to lose and played their best tennis this week when it truly mattered,” said Hodges.