MOBILE, Ala. ---- Three members of the Auburn Montgomery tennis team competed in a total of three events at the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships this past weekend, with highly successful results.
The four-day event consisted of eight regional winners from the Division II, Division III, NAIA and Junior College levels. National Championship winners from each level then competed against each other in a "Super Bowl" tournament, with the champion advancing to the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships in New York.
Tiffany William won the NAIA singles title, and reached the final in the Super Bowl, while Nicolas Pinones-Haltenhoff and Tim Hewitt captured the NAIA doubles title and also reached the finals of the Super Bowl. Pinones-Haltenhoff also competed in men's singles, losing a three-set marathon final in the NAIA tournament.
As the No. 1 seed, William cruised to straight-set victories in her first two NAIA matches. In the final, she faced No. 2 seed Tetiana Kovalska from St. Thomas and was able to win a tight three-set match, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.
"Tiffany has been great at coming from behind this year," Head Coach Rolando Vargas said. "She's been a great competitor when she's down."
In the Super Bowl, William won her semifinal match over Junior College champion Chloe Murphy (State College of Florida), 6-4, 6-3. The win moved her into the final against Division II winner Barbora Krtickova (Armstrong).
Krtickova prevailed in the championship match, winning 6-1, 7-6 (8). William, however, made the match competitive in the final set after initially trailing 5-1.
"She was nervous in the beginning, but then she started to get back into the match," Vargas said. "She showed a lot of resilience in the second set. She fought until the end, and it's going to be great experience for the future."
Playing as the No. 3 seeds, Pinones-Haltenhoff and Hewitt defeated the two top-seeded teams on their way to the NAIA title. In the final, they beat the No. 1 seeded team of Patrick Besch and Simon Felix (Embry-Riddle), 7-5, 6-4.
In their first Super Bowl match, the pair defeated Junior College champions Donovan McSeverey and Brady Bohrenstedt (Collin College), 6-1, 6-4, prevailing in the second set after initially being down 4-0. They came up short in the final, however, losing 6-2, 7-5 to the Division II champions from Armstrong.
"Tim and Nico had a tremendous tournament," Vargas said. "They showed a lot of confidence and chemistry together, mixing up the play and displaying a lot of different weapons."
Pinones-Haltenhoff was also the No. 1 seed in the singles tournament. He lost only three games en route to the final against Besch, who was the second seed.
The match was extremely tight, going to a third-set tiebreak and lasting three and a half hours. Besch emerged victorious, coming away with a 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (4) win.
"It was a little tough for Nico to adjust to the quality of his opponent in the final after an easy first two matches," Vargas said. "Overall, though, I was very happy with his competitiveness."
Pinones-Haltenhoff trailed 5-2 in each of the final two sets, but was able to rally in both, continuing the trend of resiliency by AUM which was seen throughout the event.
"I was very happy with the way everyone handled themselves when they were behind," Vargas said. "They were able to shake it off and focus on the next ball. Their composure and body language were very good throughout the tournament."
Jade Curtis and Morgane Zowczak were originally slated to participate in women's doubles as the No. 1 seeds, but were forced to withdraw at the last second after Curtis suffered an injury.
The tennis teams will now continue to work towards the spring season, which begins on Feb. 1 at Emmanuel. Vargas hopes that the experience gained by his players last weekend will carry over to the spring.
"It was a really successful tournament for us overall," he said. "It was the first time any of them had participated in the event, and they learned a lot from it."