By Nick Johnson
Eastern’s bid for a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance fell a little short in the championship match of the OVC tournament in Paducah, Ky., this weekend.The Colonels (14-16) lost in the OVC championship match to second seeded Austin Peay 4-2 on Sunday afternoon.
The championship match loss concluded the Colonels impressive run through the OVC tournament.
The Colonels run began with a 4-1 victory over instate rival Morehead State 4-1 in the opening round on Friday. Eastern also pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, by defeating the top-seeded and undefeated regular season conference champion Jacksonville State 4-2 in the semifinals on Saturday.
“Our women stole the show this weekend,” Coach Rob Oertel said. “We were the five seed, no one expected our team to do what they did.”
Playing as the fifth seed in the tournament, Eastern opened up against the fourth-seeded Morehead State Eagles. Morehead (9-14) won a tough 4-3 decision over the Colonels earlier in the season.
However, this match would be drastically different as Eastern won the doubles point to begin the match.
The Colonels won the first two doubles matches to win the doubles point. Catarina Branco and Myriem Mhirit (no. 3 pair) won their match 8-1, and Anouk Faure and Alyze Pagal (no. 2 pair) picked up an 8-3 to secure the doubles point.
Eastern picked up the doubles point in a match for the first time since against Tennessee Tech in March.
The Colonels continued their dominant play in singles winning three of the four matches concluded. Anais Hamel (no. 5) picked up the first win with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Eagles’ Lauren Delaney.
Madeleinne Antero made the match 2-1 with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Branco. The loss ended Branco’s four match winning streak leading up to the conference tournament.
However, the Colonels closed out the match with singles wins by Faure and Jessica Albuquerque. Faure won the no. 3 singles match 6-2, 6-4 over Kayla Tuscany. Albuquerque clinched the match for Eastern by pulling out a 6-1, 7-6 decision over Alexandra Rydberg.
The win over Morehead set up a rematch with Jacksonville State. The Colonels concluded their regular season schedule with a 5-2 loss to the Gamecocks (13-9) in Jacksonville.
“I can’t tell you how deep these girls dug in their hearts this weekend,” Oertel said. “There is always a lot of emotion when you play a rival like Morehead, and then the next day to play the undefeated team in the conference. We won with our determination and spirit. We beat Jacksonville even though they were the more talented team. We were the better team because of how we dug in against them. We shocked them.”
The Colonels fell behind early losing the doubles point to Jacksonville. Branco and Mhirit picked up the only doubles win for the Colonels winning the no. 3 doubles match 9-7.
Eastern would fall behind 2-0 in the overall match as the Gamecocks Martina Dessbesell defeated Albuquerque 6-2, 6-0. Dessbesell was selected to the All-OVC First Team.
However, the Colonels fought back in the match with Faure’s three set victory over Kimberly Ferris. Faure won the no. 3 singles match 0-6, 6-1 and 6-1.
Mhirit tied the match at 2-2 with her 6-3, 6-4 win in the no. 1 singles match over Viviane Marani. Mhirit was chosen as a Second Team All-OVC selection.
Branco picked up the third point for the Colonels with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Rafaela Wenzel in the no. 4 singles match.
The Colonels completed the upset with Hamel’s victory over Julianna Renesto in the no. 5 singles match. Hamel pulled out the match-clinching win 7-5, 7-5 to send Eastern to the OVC championship match for the third straight year.
“It’s become an expected result for our women’s team to play in the conference championship match,” Oertel said. “I am very proud of that fact. That is not an easy accomplishment.”
However, the Colonels run came to an end against Austin Peay.
In doubles play, the point came down to a tight tiebreak in the third and final doubles match.
The Governors picked up the first doubles victory as Yuki Nakamura and Carolin Weikard defeated Faure and Pagal 8-0 in the no. 2 doubles match.
The Colonels fought back to win the no. 3 singles match as Branco and Mhirit defeated Demi Georgakopoulos and Michelle Liew 8-6.
Austin Peay was able to win the doubles point as Mariana Pagan and Vanja Tomic won on the third tiebreak to defeat Albuquerque and Hamel 9-8 in the no. 1 singles match.
The Governors added to their match lead as Tomic, who was voted OVC Player of the Year, defeated Mhirit 6-1, 6-2 in the no. 1 singles match.
Hamel made the match 2-1 by beating Georgakopoulos 6-0, 6-1 in the no. 5 singles match.
Nakamura won the no. 6 singles match over Pagal 7-5, 6-3 to make the match 3-1.
Branco closed the gap for the Colonels by defeating Liew 6-3, 7-6 to make the match 3-2. The second set went to 5 tiebreaks.
However, Austin Peay clinched the match as OVC Freshmen of the Year Weikard defeated Albuquerque in three sets in the no. 2 singles match. Albuquerque picked up the first set in the match before losing the last two, 6-3, 2-6 and 5-7.
“I can’t say enough about their effort,” Oertel said. “They think they let me down, but they didn’t. I’m so proud of their effort. They spilled their guts out on the court.”
Hamel, the team’s captain, is the lone senior on the roster. She posted an 11-1 record against OVC opponents including three singles victories during the OVC Tournament.
“What a way to go,” Oertel said. “Anais went out in style. She finished her career as a Colonel in style.”
“Anais will be tough to replace,” Oertel said. “It’s always tough to replace your captain, but we have a great core coming back. Anouk is ready to step in as a leader. I like our team. I’m optimistic. This program will only get better, we’re not going backwards.