Sunday, February 17, 2002
[ DIVISION II SPORTS ]
Aiming highThe Hawaii Pacific men's tennis team experienced unprecedented success during the past two years. But along with it came unprecedented heartache.
Top-ranked HPU has its sights set
on capturing an elusive title
Loaded Seasiders ready to start another win streak
By Brandon Lee
The Sea Warriors finished as the runner-up to Lander at the 2000 Division II national championship tournament -- the best finish in school history -- then repeated that result in falling to Rollins in the title match last season.
The HPU team acknowledges its recent achievements. Still, no one likes losing the last match of the season, especially when it is for the right to wear a national crown.
Sea Warrior lineup
1. Mikael Maatta (Soph.; Lidkoping, Sweden)
2. Blaz Jurjec (Jr.; Loubljana, Slovenia)
3. Jan Tribler (Jr.; Horsholm, Denmark)
4. Matey Pampulov (Fr.; Dornbirn, Austria)
5. Stefan Pampulov (Sr.; Dornbirn, Austria)
6. Karl Sloss (Sr.; Kildeer, Ill.)
2. Miguel Diez (Sr.; Brasilia, Brazil)/Sloss
3. Jurjec/Stefan Pampulov
"The last two years, we were so close," said junior Jan Tribler, who experienced both championship-match defeats. "(But) second place is like nothing. It's almost better to lose before (the final)."
Some of HPU's frustration has been soothed by the fact that it had never been to the season's final match until two years ago, and last year, the unseeded Sea Warriors weren't expected to get there.
But barely a month into this season, HPU (4-1 overall, 1-0 Pacific West Conference) is the top-ranked team in the nation and among the favorites to return to the national final. Despite their respect for the other contenders, some of the Sea Warriors admit what likely all of them feel in some way: This time around, anything less than the national title would be a disappointment.
"Yes," said senior Stefan Pampulov, also with HPU the last two years, when asked if a finish short of the Division II championship would be a letdown. "We all know what counts will be the end of the season. We're taking every match seriously and we're not underestimating anyone, but our goal is to play well at nationals."
While winning the national tournament -- to be held May 9-12 at Kansas City, Mo. -- is HPU's ultimate goal, the Sea Warriors will be tested in the regular season.
The first of two regular-season matches against conference rival and national No. 3 Brigham Young-Hawaii (5-0, 3-0) is on Tuesday, after matches against another PacWest opponent in No. 31 Hawaii-Hilo (1-2, 1-2) today and tomorrow. HPU suffered its only loss this season to Div. I then-No. 9 Southern Methodist last month, and Div. I No. 11 Tennessee comes calling March 23.
"It's a great test to see where we're at," said HPU coach Henry Somerville of the upcoming match against BYUH. "We've been healthy competitors the last few years.
"It seems like every time we raise our level, they do too. There is not much of anything really separating us right now."
Somerville said that while this year's team is definitely stronger than last year's, it's difficult to say whether it is better than the 2000 edition. The HPU coach does like the depth of this year's squad and also how team-oriented it is.
HPU dropped all three of its doubles bouts against Rollins last year on its way to eventually being swept 5-0, and Somerville believes one of the keys for the 2002 Sea Warriors is improved doubles play.
But regardless of strategy and execution, the HPU skipper said that a little luck is necessary as well. With a postseason schedule that could last one month -- with the PacWest championships in April, followed by the West Regional and 16-team national championship tournament in May -- it's easy to see why.
"(Winning a national championship) involves a little bit of luck in the draw and healthy players," Somerville said. "Last year we had a tough draw, and by the time we got to the final, we were drained. If we have a lucky draw, we could be a little stronger for the end."
Having been there before also will help, according to Pampulov. The Sea Warriors are no longer fazed by the top-caliber competition at the national tournament and have grown accustomed to championship aspirations.
"We have learned to compete on a very high level," Pampulov said. (The national title) is our goal every single year. This is what we work for."
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While the Hawaii Pacific men may be on the verge of tennis greatness, the Brigham Young-Hawaii women have redefined it the past four years.
Loaded Seasiders ready to
start another win streak
By Brandon Lee
The Seasiders won NAIA national championships in 1997 and 1998. After joining the NCAA the following season, BYUH promptly captured the Div. II national titles in 1999 and 2000.
The women from Laie have been so dominant that until they went down to Lynn in the national championship match last year, they had not lost a single Div. II contest since they joined the affiliation -- a span of 103 straight wins and nearly three full seasons. No other NCAA team at any level -- men or women -- has won 100 consecutive matches, and it is believed that no NAIA team has ever reached the century mark either.
"It's possible, but it's pretty unlikely," said BYUH coach Dave Porter, of the chances of the Seasiders' record win streak being matched or broken in the near future. "There is enough parity that it will be pretty unusual for that to happen again. It wouldn't surprise me if some team breaks (the record) or if we break it, but I think it may be one that stands for a while."
Porter shoulders the majority of the blame for the Seasiders losing to the Knights last season in their bid for a fifth straight national title, but said that he and his players are focused on re-establishing their winning ways. Porter has his top five players back from last year, including top-10 players Petra Gaspar and Tagifano Taosoga.
BYUH is No. 2 in the nation behind Lynn. The Seasiders (3-0 overall, 3-0 Pacific West Conference) have a match against No. 16 Hawaii Pacific (1-0, 1-0) on Thursday.
"We feel real good about our chances," Porter said. "Most of these girls have played enough that they're not concerned with rankings. They know the only (match) that counts is the one at the end ... and they'd like to take on (Lynn) if they get that chance. Losing last year maybe turned on the competitive juices for this season."
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