There’s the story – Barry University winning the NCAA Division II national championship in women’s tennis.
And then there’s the story behind the story that includes a controversial call that was overturned, nearly six hours of grueling tennis and a team of young women that stuck together under intense heat and pressure.
The finals took place May 17 in the Central Florida town of Altamonte Springs. Barry, ranked No. 1 in the country, defeated second-ranked Armstrong Atlantic State of Savannah, Ga., 5-4.
Barry’s Avi Kigel, who is from Israel and was named the National Coach of the Year, said he and his staff were tough this year on their roster of 12 players, 11 of whom were born outside the United States.
“They went through a lot of hard work, conditioning and mental training,” he said, “and quite a bit of yelling.”
It paid off as Barry finished 28-1. Its only loss was a 5-4 defeat against Division I North Florida in March.
This was Barry’s second national title in women’s tennis – the other came in 2011 with an experienced team also coached by Kigel. The 2014 team, however, was much younger. The seven players who competed against Armstrong Atlantic featured one junior, four sophomores and two freshmen.
But despite their youth, Barry took a 3-0 lead by winning each of the doubles matches.
Sophomore Kimmy Twelker of Germany and freshman Anaeve Pain of New Caledonia won at No. 1 doubles, knocking off the top-ranked duo in the nation, 8-6. It was the second time this season that Twelker and Pain, who are ranked sixth with a 19-6 record, had knocked off the nation’s top pair. The top-ranked duo they beat previously was from Lynn University.
Junior Linda Fritschken of Germany and sophomore Emma Onila of Romania, who combined for a 20-2 record, won at No. 2 doubles, 8-4.
At No. 3, freshman Blanka Szavay of Hungary and sophomore Karina Goia of Romania, a duo that was put together late in the season and compiled an 8-1 record, won their match, 9-7.
But despite the great start, Barry struggled in singles, losing four of the first five matches.
That left Twelker at No. 6 singles as Barry’s last hope.
But since she entered the match with a 14-0 record – the only player on her team to remain undefeated – Barry’s supporters had to be feeling confident. That was especially true when Twelker won the first set and led the second-set tie-breaker, 6-2.
But her opponent, senior Olga Kalodzitsa of Belarus, battled back to force a third set that would ultimately decide the national championship.
By this time, the other Barry players had finished their matches and had come to Twelker’s court to try to root her to victory.
“It was so close – we were just trying to stay positive,” Goia said. “Sometimes, we had to turn away so (Twelker) didn’t see how nervous we were.”
Twelker led the third set in games 5-2, but Kalodzitsa again rallied to force a tie-breaker. Twelker led the tie-breaker 5-2, but Kalodzitsa won two straight points before the key point of the entire day.
In college tennis, players call their own lines, but there is usually an official to settle any disputes. Sure enough, when Twelker hit a cross-court volley, Kalodzitsa called it out to tie the score, 5-5.
But the head official overruled the call to make the score 6-4 in favor of Twelker. And since it was the third time Kalodzitsa had made an erroneous call in the match, a point penalty was assessed, giving Twelker the win and Barry the national title.
“I dropped my racket, I dropped the ball, and (assistant coach Maria Lopez) came yelling and running toward me to hug me,” said Twelker, who won the match 6-3, 6-7 (9-7), 7-6 (7-4). “I really didn’t care how the match ended.
“Of course it was not normal. But I still fought, and we still won.”
After Lopez got the first hug, the rest of the Barry team engulfed Twelker.
“We didn’t know who to hug first,” Onila said. “We were in a state of shock, and we just wanted to be together.”