This was match point, and a national championship in women’s tennis was at stake.
Barry University’s Ana Pain hit four groundstrokes before coming closer to the net. She then smashed one volley and then another.
When the second volley was not returned … that was it … Barry had won the 2017 NCAA Division II national title with a perfect 30-0 record.
“We did it!” yelled one of the nine women on the team.
“South Beach!” yelled another, disclosing the team’s post-match celebration plans.
Moments later, the women gathered in a circle
“May I have your attention please?” one of them screamed. “Who are we?”
The response, in unison: “Barry!”
Opponents, however, don’t need an introduction. The Barry Buccaneers have won three national titles in nine years under coach Avi Kigel, a native of Tel Aviv.
The 2011 Barry team finished 26-1, and the 2014 club went 29-1. No Barry team — in any sport — had ever gone 30-0 before the Bucs women’s tennis team accomplished the feat on Saturday, May 13.
That night, as they had promised each other, the women on the team partied on South Beach at a club called Mynt until 4 a.m. This was after winning a four-hour title match and after making the four-hour drive home from Altamonte Springs.
“Everyone was dead,” said Pain, 23. “But we had a great time.”
Pain and Karina Goia, both seniors, are the only two members of the team who also played for Barry on the 2014 championship squad.
“They became such good leaders,” Kigel said, “that the coaching staff could take a backseat and let Ana and Karina run with it.”
Barry’s 2016 season had been a disappointment, at least by the Bucs’ high standards. The Bucs lost to Lynn University in the South region final.
Goia suffered a knee injury, and Kimmy Twelker was unable to play due to back pain.
Once the season was over, the Bucs lost Twelker and Emma Onila to graduation. Onila was named the National Senior Player of the Year, and Twelker also had a great career.
In addition to those losses, assistant coach Maria Lopez, who had been with Barry since 2010, left the program to take a head-coaching job with Longwood University, a Division I school in Virginia.
Kigel, though, quickly regrouped. He signed three recruits who all became among Barry’s top-four players: Dasha Salnikova, Verena Schmid and Isa Rapisarda Calvo.
Goia, after missing the prior season, was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, and she decided to return to play and also pursue her master’s degree in business.
The coach also hired Steven Schram as his top assistant, replacing Lopez. Schram had been the head coach at Nova Southeastern University the past three years, compiling a 46-19 record.
“We had a lot of questions entering the 2017 season,” Kigel said. “I knew Steve was a great coach. But this was the first time we had two men as assistant coaches, and I didn’t know how our players would accept that … but there were no issues.”
Here’s a quick look at the team’s top six singles players, in order as of the championship match, and also the club’s depth:
▪ Zuza Maciejewska, a 6-foot-2 sophomore from Poland, is in her second year at Barry and is majoring in Athletic Training. “She’s probably the most talented player in the country,” Kigel said.
▪ Dasha Salnikova, a 5-foot-7 freshman from France, has played juniors tournaments at two of the most iconic tennis locales in the world, Roland Garros in France and Wimbledon in England.
Salnikova, who is majoring in International Business, was once ranked No. 11 in the world among juniors before quitting tennis for two years. She had burned out on tennis. “Dasha was going to university in France, and she had started her own bakery,” Kigel said. “But she decided to join us in August.”
▪ Verena Schmid, a 5-foot-10 sophomore from Germany, arrived in January and by May had been named the South Region Rookie of the Year. Majoring in Sports Management, Schmid lost only one match this year, and that happened on a day when she had a stomach virus.
She also won the most important match of the year, getting the decisive point against previously unbeaten and top-ranked BYU-Hawaii. She beat the nation’s eighth-ranked player Min Liu, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to help Barry advance to the NCAA semifinals.
▪ Isa Rapisarda Calvo, a 5-foot-3 senior from Spain, spent the past three years at the Universidad de Laguna and is majoring in Sociology.
Like Salnikova, Calvo had quit tennis. In her case, it had been three years since she had played when she arrived at Barry. “I had been [recruiting] her since her freshman year, trying to convince her to come,” Kigel said. “Finally, she missed tennis. She wanted one more chapter with tennis.”
▪ Ana Pain, a 5-foot-6 senior from New Caledonia; is a biology major. She won all 14 of her matches this year and finished her college career with a 55-6 record. She won the last match of the season, 6-0, 6-4 against Lynn.
▪ Sonja Larsen; a 5-foot-10 junior from Germany, has two majors: Finance and Management. She went 28-0 this season, breaking the school record for wins in a single season.
Larsen has a 61-5 career record and was perhaps the most reliable player on the team in terms of not getting injured and always being ready to compete.
Barry’s depth included Goia, a 5-8 senior from Romania; Judith Bohnenkamp, a 5-8 junior from Germany; and Mara Cerrini, a 5-6 freshman from Miami.
“It’s a great feeling,” Schmid said of the championship. “We know the value of getting the title, especially without losing one match. We had an amazing atmosphere on the team the whole season.”