UH men win WAC title


POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009

The question was rhetorical, but was answered emphatically.

Not long after the repeated cries of “;Whose house is this?!”; came to an end, the Hawaii Warriors tennis team raised its second straight Western Athletic Conference championship trophy. This time, though, UH celebrated on its home courts.

The third-seeded Warriors upset top-seeded and 20th-ranked Boise State in the tournament final, 4-2, by jumping on the Broncos early and maintaining their focus through a late BSU charge.

Once again, Hawaii (10-9) is peaking at the right time after facing a slew of top-tier competition over the regular season. The Warriors proved their WAC tournament victory last year in Las Cruces, N.M., wasn't a fluke and qualified for their second NCAA tournament appearance under coach John Nelson.

UH stunned the Broncos (22-8) from the outset by taking two of three doubles matches for the paired team point. It meant that the Warriors would only have to win three of six singles matches, compared to four of six for Boise State.

Seniors Jeff Fitch and Sascha Heinemann rose to the occasion with singles victories on the Nos. 5 and 4 courts. Boise countered with victories over Philipp Eberhard (No. 6) and Dennis Lajola (No. 1), but UH freshman Leo Rosenberg clinched the championship with the collected play of a veteran on the No. 3 court.

“;Champions don't back off just because things aren't going your way,”; Nelson said. “;And this (Boise) team isn't top 20 in the nation for no reason—they're good. So I told the guys, 'We get on them, we stay on them. You don't play the score—you relax, and it's over.' So the guys did a good job staying on them.”;

Although the three doubles matches factor into just one of the seven points up for grabs, UH's victory there was big. The Warriors came into the day just 21-32 in doubles matches, and conversely, BSU relied on strong starts out of its doubles all season. On April 17, the Broncos had no trouble rolling over UH for the doubles point en route to a 6-1 overall win.

Nelson tweaked his pairings, putting together Rosenberg and Andreas Weber together for the first time. It paid dividends, as the shakeup rattled the visitors.

“;The doubles point's everything,”; Broncos coach Greg Patton said. “;Our whole season's based on the doubles point. The guys were really tight, and I take responsibility for it. I should have been more animated with these guys and we should have gone after it, but we got afraid, and I had a lot of new guys in this situation. Hawaii played fearlessly, and we played hesitantly.”;

Where it was Heinemann who came up huge for Hawaii in the semifinals over Fresno State with the match-clincher, this time it was Rosenberg's turn to play the hero. He knocked off 85th-ranked James Meredith 7-6 (6-3), 7-5 in a nail-biter as tennis fans packed the rails of his court. If he hadn't won, the match would have come down to Andy Weber's duel with No. 26 Clancy Shields on the No. 2 court.

The stoic Rosenberg was nearly speechless afterward.

“;It's huge. It's big for me personally because I need to win matches and get confidence, and for the team, too,”; Rosenberg said. “;It's just, the whole thing.”;

Fitch stayed poised when Stanley Sarapanich broke his lightning-quick serve late in the match, coming right back to break the BSU player and finish off a 6-4, 7-5 win.

Heinemann won his 12th straight match, 6-2, 6-4 over Cristian Hodel. The emotional pulse of the team saw the Warriors improve despite a 3-7 start to the season, and gain confidence from a 4-3 loss at No. 7 USC on April 14.

“;It's amazing. I really didn't believe in (our chances) at the beginning. I wasn't sure we could do it because we didn't start off well,”; Heinemann said. “;But I knew we had the spirit, and I'm just super glad that we all did it at the end.

“;Everybody stepped up. Jeff played amazing. Dennis played some big matches.”;

The No. 60-ranked Lajola, Heinemann, and Fitch were named to the all-tournament singles team. The pairings of Lajola and Fitch, and Rosenberg and Weber earned doubles honors.