April 27, 2014
By Richard Finn
Special to BIGEAST.com
FLUSHING, N.Y. – Red and blue were the colors of the day at the BIG EAST Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships presented by New York Life on Sunday.
At a sun-drenched USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the top seeded St. John’s men (16-7) claimed its first conference crown since 1991 with a 4-1 win over No. 3 DePaul (11-14).
The women’s title went to the top-seeded Blue Demons (22-3) with a resounding 4-0 win over No. 3 Xavier (19-6).
Now the champions wait to hear their fate in the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday when the draw for the 64-team fields will be announced.
“So emotional, tremendous for St. John’s tennis and the guys fought so hard this year and they deserve it,” said Red Storm coach Eric Rebhuhn soaking in a victory Gatorade shower moments after junior Erick Reyes zipped a backhand passing shot winner to claim No. 2 singles and the title. “It’s a great feeling.”
Reyes was too sharp for DePaul sophomore Sten Leusink from the ground and got plenty of support from the home fans to take a 6-2, 6-2 win in just more than 90 minutes.
“It’s awesome, I tried to be focus on every point because if you think too much you will probably miss,” said Reyes. “I was just calm and I just played my game at the end.” Reyes was named the Men's Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
Reyes was also instrumental in grabbing a hard earned doubles point. After splitting first and third doubles, the Red Storm No. 2 tandem of Reyes and R.J. Del Nunzio held off a furious comeback from Leusink and Kyle Johnson to win 8-6 on a service winner from Reyes. St. John’s led 7-3 and had two match points at 7-4.
Red Storm singles victories went to sophomore Vaidik Munshaw (No. 4) and freshman Robert Livi (No.5).
The DePaul women were strong favorites coming into the tournament after a sparkling regular season and a top-50 national ranking. The victory set off an impromptu on-court celebration after sophomore Zaina Sufi clinched the victory at No. 5 singles with an uneven 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 victory over senior Andrea Wolf.
“Being the number one seed, there is always a little added pressure. We tried to embrace it,” said Sufi. “It’s a celebration and relief to be able to win it.”
“I am just so happy for them, it’s a great feeling,” DePaul coach Mark Ardizzone said of his team’s return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
It was a gritty effort by the Musketeers who had been stretched to the limit and beyond in a six hour-plus marathon semifinal win against Marquette on Saturday.
“Hats off to DePaul,” said Xavier coach Eric Toth. “We have a goal every year to win this and we got to the day. That’s a huge day for us. Only one team can go home happy and that was DePaul today.”
The Blue Demons women got off to a blistering start, sweeping the doubles point in under an hour. Sophomore Ana Vladutu put the exclamation point on DePaul’s domination with a booming service winner to wrap up No. 1, 8-1 in just 34 minutes.
DePaul’s strength has been its depth and the play of senior Kelly Lawson, Sufi and junior Rebeca Mitrea and once again that proved to be the decisive advantage. Mitrea beat junior Lizzie Oosterbann 6-2, 7-5 and when junior Patricia Fargas beat sophomore Alex Brinker at No. 2 singles, it set the stage for Sufi’s win to book at trip to the NCAAs. Fargas capped off a perfectl tournament that saw her post a 3-0 record at both singles and doubles. She was named the Women's Most Outstanding Player.
Sufi’s victory was not textbook nor always pretty, but it got the job done.
“I can’t say it was my best, the other girl made me work for it,” Sufi said of the one hour 25 minute match. “At the end I started hitting my shots and pulled through.”
The Musketeers’ standout freshman Sydney Liggins continued to put the conference on notice. The smooth-swinging southpaw was knotted at a set apiece with Vladutu at No. 1 singles when play was stopped.
“Xavier and the BIG EAST will have to deal with her for three more years, she is a special player. She is arguably the best player in the conference,” said Toth.