Mobile, Ala. - The College of Coastal Georgia women's tennis team gave a determined effort Tuesday in the opening round of the NAIA Women's Tennis National Championship before falling 5-4 to No. 17-ranked Indiana Wesleyan in its first-ever national tournament match.
The No. 16-ranked Mariners found themselves down 3-0 after losing all three doubles matches to start the match, but Coastal Georgia battled to the end as it attempted to rebound from the deficit. Needing to win five of the six singles matches to pull off a come-from-behind victory, the Mariners took four of the six contests to fall a point short in what turned out to be the longest, closest and certainly most exciting match of the eight that were played on the opening day of the event.
"We played a high-quality, hard-fought match against a strong Indiana Wesleyan team," said Coastal Georgia first-year coach Kemper Baker, who guided the Mariners to nationals after taking over the program in January after the season had actually already started for the team. "Indiana Wesleyan is a talented squad that is extremely well-coached.
"They dominated us in doubles today. I was really proud of how our girls battled back and took five of the first six sets in singles. Unfortunately, we came up just a little bit short."
Three of the first eight matches in the the tournament were decided by 8-1 scores, two were won by 9-0 counts and the other two matches were won by 7-2 and 6-3 counts. The winners will move on to take on the top eight seeds which had byes on the opening day of the event.
It looked like the Mariners might be dealt a lop-sided defeat as well against the Wildcats who have appeared in the national tournament every year since the 2000 season which was the first using the team format.
But Coastal Georgia won three of the first four singles matches that finisedh and the final two were three-set affairs that went to the wire with the Mariners coming out victorious in only one of the two to leave them a point shy of the five needed to win the overall match and move on in the tournament.
For Coastal Georgia, three of the four singles wins came in three-set matches. Elektra Hunter won at the top spot in the lineup, earning a 6-0, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 victory; Nicole Faas won at No. 3 by 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-2: and Sunshine Beba (Marta Torrey Scholarship) won at No. 5 by 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.
Also for the Mariners, Luisa Lopes won in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, at No. 6 to get the team started out on the right foot in singles play.
The Mariners lost the three doubles matches by scores of 8-3, 8-2 and 8-5.
Indian Wesleyan, the champion from the Crossroads League, will face top-seeded and top-ranked Xavier (La.) in Wednesday's quarterfinals.
Coastal Georgia, which received an at-large bid to the tournament, finishes the season 8-9 overall after reaching the semifinals of the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament in its first season in the league.
"Hopefully, we will learn from this experience and use it to improve as we move toward next year," Baker said.