Down 3-1 midway through singles on the OVC’s biggest stage, the APSU women’s tennis team mounted a historic and thrilling comeback to once again be crowned the conference champions and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
It came down to the very last set in the match at the Wesselman Tennis Center in Evansville, Ind., but junior Danielle Morris mounted her own comeback after dropping an extended first set to seal the win and give the Govs their second-straight OVC Tournament title.
Before the epic comeback, there were numerous tense and nerve-wracking moments for APSU and their fans that were in attendance.
First, the Govs dropped the doubles point in a rather unexpected fashion. The All-OVC duo of Fabienne Schmidt and Danielle Morris fell 6-4 in their match, suffering just their second loss as a tandem all season.
Following their defeat, Honoka Nakanishi and Ana Albertson fell victim to a late surge by the Redhawks and dropped their match 7-5.
In singles, the OVC’s Freshman of the Year and All-OVC First-Team honoree Jana Leder knotted the match back up at one after picking up the first singles point. SEMO responded with a pair of wins from the No. 5 and No. 6 positions to put them just a point away from the victory.
“Fabulous Fabi” as APSU head coach Ross Brown calls his senior Fabienne Schmidt, lived up to her nickname in singles by defeating the OVC’s Player of the Year, Romana Tarajova, in three sets. After being swept 6-0 in the second set, Schmidt defeated Tarajova 6-4 in the final.
In three sets that perfectly resembled the match itself by its nail-biting closeness, APSU’s Aleks Topalovic defeated the Redhawks’ Ksenia Shikanova to put all the weight on the No. 2 singles position of Danielle Morris and Daniela Hlacikova.
Morris’ first set lasted longer than most other positions’ first two. It took an extended tiebreaker (11-9) to decide the first set victor, which was Hlacikova. She battled back in the second to take a slightly easier victory, winning 6-1.
There were four instances where the OVC Tournament’s final set was tied, the latter coming on the heels of a 5-5 stalemate between the two All-OVC members.
After battling back and forth for hours with Hlacikova, Morris outlasted her opposition and, after securing the championship, was swarmed by her teammates and coaches.
“I didn’t really feel [the pressure],” Morris said. “It didn’t really get to me because I just kind of zoned in, and I wasn’t really hearing anyone cheer at that point because I knew they were going to get loud. I just managed to block it out and play, but I feel like it might have got to her a bit more.”
The Governors have faced numerous obstacles throughout the season. From playing “home” matches in Evansville during the non-conference season, to practicing in Hopkinsville, Ky. due to inclement weather and even battling back from an 0-2 start of OVC play, the team showed poise and mental toughness to come out on top at the end.
“It just shows how strong we are to get through all of it this year. All of the challenges we faced helped us to get mentally tougher this year for sure,” Morris said following the match.
Following the emotional victory, Coach Brown expressed his pride in a team that left everything out on the court.
“There’s a little bit of relief but a lot of joy, and I am truly proud of how our women fought out there,” Brown said. “They truly did leave everything out here. There’s nothing left. Danielle, who clinched it for us today in a sensational match, she was out of gas at the start of the third set. There is nothing left in her tank. She put forward a spectacular [effort]. Same thing with the other girls. Even the ones that didn’t win, they left everything out on the court. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Apart from his girls who took home their second-straight OVC Tournament Title, Brown also thanked the many who made the two-hour trip from Clarksville to Evansville, including APSU President Michael Licari, Director of Athletics Gerald Harrison along with coaches Maria Sorbello Morrison and Kurt Kujawa…
“I am thankful to have President Licari here today, I’ve never had a President of the university come to one of our tennis matches so that is awesome,” Brown said. “To have Gerald [Harrison] here, he’s the first athletic director that has come to our matches, I’m just very thankful for that. I also have to thank Maria. Maria is an outstanding coach, and I am very fortunate to have her. I don’t understand why she’s stayed with me for these nine years. I also want to thank Kurt Kujawa, our volunteer assistant.
“We’ve just got a great group of people here supporting us, and it finishes with the women. They did it. They left it all on the court. It was an absolutely incredible college match. It was the best college match I’ve been involved in in 27-plus years. It was fun.”
With the thrilling victory, the Governors have punched their ticket to 2021 NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Selection Show is at 5 p.m. on May 3 with the first round of the tournament beginning May 7.