April 24, 2013
Samford Tennis Team Wins SoCon Tournament
For the second time in three seasons, the Samford University men's tennis team streaked to the championship title of the Southern Conference Tournament and earned a berth to in NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs secured their spot in the field of 64 Sunday with a 4-3 triumph over the homestanding Elon Phoenix in a thrilling, hotly-contested final held at the Jimmy Powell Tennis Center.
"Not only today, but this entire weekend, was a total team effort," said Samford head coach Rahim Esmail. "I saw things from this team that we were lacking all season and I am extremely proud of the way my team competed today. I would like to congratulate Elon on a tremendous season. This was two very even teams competing today and it came down to the wire."
With the overall score of Sunday's best-of-seven duel deadlocked at 3-3, all eyes shifted to the No. 1 singles match where senior Zac Dunkle of Samford (15-9) and junior Cameron Silverman of Elon (17-8) battled in the decisive third set. The winner of the all-important matchup would claim the SoCon Tournament championship.
The Bulldogs' Dunkle took the first set, 6-4, but then Elon's Silverman rebounded to win the second frame, 7-5. In the critical third set, the contest was tied at 2-2 before Dunkle tallied a key break and jumped out to a 5-2 advantage. Silverman claimed a final game to make it 5-3, but then Samford's SoCon Tournament run culminated in a fevered celebration as Dunkle posted the final 6-3 victory.
With his match-clinching triumph, the Bulldogs' Dunkle improved to 12-8 in singles play this season.
"The teamwork, the energy, the fight, and in the end, the belief that this team showed got us through that match today and earned us a conference championship," Esmail said. "Zac showed great composure to clinch that deciding point. He stayed in the moment and focused on the process and did a tremendous job in closing out the match."
Samford earned its second NCAA Tournament berth in three years and its third conference tournament title since 2008.
The Bulldogs will begin play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament on either May 10 or 11 depending on which regional site they are sent. Samford will learn of its regional destination and first-round opponent April 30 at 4 p.m. (CDT) as the NCAA Selection Show will be aired live on NCAA.com.
Elon, which was playing on its home court Sunday, earned an early 1-0 advantage in the championship match by winning the doubles point. The top-seeded Phoenix garnered its quick lead by registering doubles victories on courts No. 1 and No. 3.
In singles play, Samford bounced back with a win on court No. 2 as junior Elliot Barnwell cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Stefan Fortmann. With his victory, Barnwell improved to 15-8 in singles play this season and evened the overall score of the match at 1-1.
"Elliot's performance this whole weekend was the best stretch of tennis he has played all season," said Esmail. "He managed himself perfectly all weekend, which got him through a very tough match on day one, and I think played a big part in him playing such confident tennis in the championship match."
Minutes later, Elon's Jordan Kaufman secured a singles win on court No. 4 to give the Phoenix a slight 2-1 advantage.
Elon's lead proved to be short-lived once the Bulldogs rattled off back-to-back victories from Austin Akers and Fares Kilani to earn their first lead of the match at 3-2. Akers, Samford's sophomore transfer from the University of Wisconsin, tallied his straight-set singles victory on court No. 5 and moved to 15-8 in dual-match play this season.
"Leading up to the tournament, Austin had not been playing his best tennis the past few weeks," Esmail said. "The way he competed and performed this weekend was one of the big reasons why we have been so successful this season. He refused to lose and played some of his best tennis all year on Saturday and Sunday. Garrison's positive energy played a huge part in our win on today. He got off to a great start, and even though he struggled in the second and third sets, you would have never known he wasn't winning his match, because he stayed behind his teammates and himself the whole time. His doubles performance on Saturday was one of his best all year."
Kilani, who was recently named the SoCon Player of the Week, defeated the Phoenix's Robert Lindgren in the No. 3 singles match, 6-4, 6-4. With his dominant victory, the Bulldogs' true freshman from Tunis, Tunisia, improved his team-best record to 18-6 this season.
"The energy that Fares possesses has fueled the fire that our team had this weekend," said Esmail. "If it wasn't for Zac clinching the championship match, Fares would be the top contender for tournament MVP. Alex (Sajonz) had a tough match today, but all weekend he showed a level of determination and competitiveness which led him to clinching the doubles point and the fourth singles point in Saturday's semifinal win over College of Charleston."
Shortly after Kilani gave Samford its 3-2 advantage, Elon earned a three-set win on court No. 6 to even the score at 3-3.
With their exhilarating 4-3 triumph Sunday, the Bulldogs moved to 1-1 against the Phoenix this season. Earlier in SoCon regular-season play, Samford dropped a 5-2 decision at home to Elon on March 24. Since then, the Bulldogs have been victorious in eight of their last 10 outings.
Samford is also in the midst of a four-match winning streak, dating back to April 13.
"Overall, this is a huge accomplishment for our program," Esmail said. "To do this with six guys shows the determination that this team had all season in order to achieve our goal and play our best tennis in April. We are honored with the privilege of competing in the NCAA Tournament in May and we are looking forward to getting back to work these next few weeks in order to prepare ourselves to compete at the highest level that weekend."
The Samford University men's tennis team will begin play in the 2013 NCAA Tournament on either May 10 or 11 depending on which regional site the Bulldogs are sent. Samford will learn of its regional destination and first-round opponent April 30 at 4 p.m. (CDT) as the NCAA Selection Show will be aired live on NCAA.com.
The Samford Athletic Department will host a selection show party for the event. Please check www.SamfordSports.com for location information and further details.