The Barry University doubles team of Ollie Lemaitre and Max Wimmer faced four match points.
On the second one, a player from Armstrong Atlantic State (Ga.) fired a forehand that Barry coach George Samuel estimated at 100 mph. The ball struck Lemaitre’s racket and landed in an open area for a clean winner.
“I don’t know how he got that,” Wimmer said.
Said Samuel: “Ollie reacted in self defense.”
Whichever, it was the kind of break that Barry needed to pull out a 5-4 win over Armstrong in Saturday’s NCAA Division II national final in Surprise, Ariz.
Barry (29-0) won its second national title in men’s tennis and its 10th championship in all sports. This was the Bucs’ first perfect season in men’s tennis, and the team was honored at school on Monday.
But if this seems like a dream season for Barry, maybe it’s because this was the ending many of the Bucs envisioned when they closed their eyes each night.
“During the season, our players kept telling me, ‘Coach, I dreamt we won the national title,’” said Samuel, who was named National Coach of the Year, his second such honor. “Even I would wake up thinking about a ring ceremony. I had to tell myself to stop because we hadn’t won anything yet.”
Barry’s dream eventually came true — but in an odd fashion.
The Bucs’ top two players and their only holdovers from their 2010 national champs — seniors Marco Mokrzycki and Wimmer — lost in singles after dropping their first sets in tiebreakers. The Bucs’ No. 3 singles player, Fabian Groetsch lost, too.
In fact, the Bucs’ victory came largely on the backs of their doubles teams, which picked up three of Barry’s five points.
One of the Bucs’ big advantages in doubles is that each team is perfectly balanced with one lefty and one righty. Aside from lefty Lemaitre and Wimmer, lefty Groetsch combined with Mokrzycki, and lefty Leo Vivas paired with Romain Costamagna. All three lefties played the deuce court.
Lemaitre and Wimmer won their match 9-8 (7-5), and Groetsch and Mokrzycki also pulled it out in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (7-1). On a day where there was no margin for error, those two points were huge.
Costamagna, a junior walk-on from France, and Vivas, a junior transfer from UCF, won their doubles match 8-1. Costamagna had no problems at No. 4. singles.
But with the score tied at 4, the title was on the line at No. 5 singles. That’s where Vivas lost the first set and fell behind 4-1 in the next two.
Each time, he pulled himself out of the jam under intense scrutiny. Because his match against higher-ranked Pedro Scocuglia was the last one to finish, all the players and coaches from both teams — as well as the fans — were watching them.
“I tried not to look at the crowd because you get more nervous,” Vivas said. “Of course, every time I won a point, I would turn around and look at my teammates. But I was so [focused], I don’t remember what anyone was saying.”
If he could have listened to Samuel’s thoughts, he would have heard a coach marvel at Vivas’ improvement. Last year, Vivas was not in great condition. This year, he started the season playing only doubles because Samuel felt he had seven singles players who were better.
Vivas improved his fitness by running five miles five times a week with the team, adding extra road work on his own. He then asked Samuel for a chance to play singles, and when he got the opportunity, he delivered.
“Had he been in the shape he was in previously, he never would have lasted,” said Samuel, noting the mid-90s heat of Arizona during Saturday’s final. “I’m glad he got fit.”