UH-Hilo’s men’s tennis team is stuck in Surprise Land and loving every minute of it.
The Vulcans will take their close-knit brand of tennis national, all the while hunkering down in the Phoenix area, after storming back Saturday to edge Hawaii Pacific 4-3 in the West Regional final at the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Center.
At this point, what Martin Soukal, Luca Checchia, Alessio Demichelis and the Vuls are pulling off isn’t so much as stunning but routine. UHH advanced to the national championships for the third season in a row after Checchia fought back from a set down for a clinching win that was reminiscent of his pressure-packed victory two weeks ago at the PacWest championships.
“In those moments, the thing that helps me the most is looking around and (seeing) my teammates and coaches fighting for each other,” he said in a text to the Tribune-Herald. “It gives me strength to not give up.”
The brotherhood is real, he said. UHH will stay in Arizona ahead of the national finals, which begin May 18.
“It helps a lot,” Checchia said of the team’s bond. “It actually means everything. There is no reason to play this matches if it’s not for them, so being so close is our energy.”
Just minutes before Checchia’s 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 win against Marcel Hornung, Demichelis put the finishing touches on an equally dramatic 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2) victory against No. 36 Felix Einig.
“In the important points, I played better than him,” Demichelis said in a text to the Tribune-Herald.
Perhaps the freshman’s best shot in the tiebreaker came on a drop shot from the baseline that flummoxed Einig for a 5-1 lead. Earlier, Demichelis fought off two match points to tie the third set at 5-5.
And he did it all with an injured wrist.
“I couldn’t use my left wrist all this week because of a injury, and seeing that the coach, captains and teammates believed in me anyways gave me so much confidence to figure out a way to win this match,” he said.
Checchia and Demichelis helped wipe out three Sharks’ victories in singles play after the Vuls took the doubles point thanks to wins by Soukal/Santiago Di Loreto and Wu Chun En/Demichelis.
The top-seeded Vuls (10-2) beat the Sharks for the fourth time in five meetings this season.
“I’m proud of the way the guys fought until the very end,” coach Kallen Mizuguchi said in a school release.”This was a stronger HPU team than we played at conference two weeks ago (a 4-1 UHH win), and it shows the kind of program that Hendrik (Bode) runs and how hard those guys can fight. It has always been a team win, and everyone plays a big role on this team.”
Soukal was again a rock for UHH at No. 1 singles, taking out Benjamin Loccisano 6-4, 6-2. In the past two weeks, the junior had picked up two wins against the HPU ace, and he also knocked off an undefeated opponent from Azusa Pacific in the PacWest final.
“Martin has lost only one set in three seasons of tournaments here in Surprise,” Mizuguchi said. “He has been playing so big for us here.”