It never gets old for Yaser Zaatini.
Moments after the East Tennessee State men’s tennis team captured its seventh consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship, the Bucs coach was at a loss for words.
“Lucky seven,” Zaatini said with tears in his eyes, trying to compose himself. “I’m just proud. It’s just extremely exciting.”
The Bucs beat top-seeded North Florida 4-2 Sunday in the first conference tournament at the new ETSU Tennis Center, and those in attendance were treated to an exciting afternoon of tennis.
“It’s cool to see the guys pull through,” Zaatini said. “Our seniors don’t know defeat. It’s a privilege.”
ETSU, which was seeded second thanks to a home loss to North Florida in the regular season, improved to 13-6 and earned the A-Sun’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Earlier, the North Florida women defended their title by beating ETSU 4-2. It was their third A-Sun championship in the last four years.
The first two completed men’s doubles matches produced a split, leaving the point up to the No. 1 match. ETSU’s Jesus Bandres and Rogerio Ribeiro and North Florida’s Moritz Buerchner and Norbert Nemcsek were tied 8-8 in games and 4-4 in the tiebreaker of an emotional match
Bandres and Robeiro won the final three points to win the tiebreaker 7-4, setting off a celebration that had Zaatini repeatedly pumping his first and yelling after he threw his hat in the air.
“I think from my reaction, you could see how important I thought doubles was,” Zaatini said.
After North Florida’s Moritz Buerchner (No. 1) and Julien Belair (No. 3) posted straight-set singles wins to pull the Ospreys ahead 2-1, Ricardo Pabon, the smallest player in the field at 5-foot-3, won 6-2, 6-1 at No. 6 to get the Bucs back to even.
That left three matches in progress to decide the championship.
Roger Ordeig clinched a 6-3, 6-3 win at No. 5 singles, putting the Bucs up 3-2, just one point away from the championship.
Moments later, at No. 2 Robeiro was serving for the match, up a set and leading 5-4 in the second. With the raucous crowd anticipating his next move, Robeiro’s service winner clinched the victory, setting off a wild celebration.
“It was crazy,” Roberio said. “The last two points, I felt like the energy came from the outside. It’s just a feeling I can’t describe right now. It’s unbelievable. To have this new facility and hear everybody cheering for us... I don’t know, man, it paid off.”
Robeiro was chosen the tournament’s MVP, joining Ordeig and Pabon on the all-tournament team.
“He’s a showman for sure,” Zaatini said. “He likes the attention. He knows how to win.”
In the women’s final, Melanie Agguire rallied from a 4-0 deficit in the third set and won her final six games to give second-seeded North Florida the championship with a victory over top-seeded ETSU.
“It’s amazing,” North Florida women’s coach Audra Cohen said. “This group of girls is the hardest working group here and they earned it. They don’t have the most talent on every court, but they have the most heart.”
The Ospreys (17-4) have beaten ETSU for each of their three A-Sun titles.
With North Florida up 3-2, ETSU’s Sofia Espana was leading Agguire 4-0 in third third set at No. 5 singles, a seemingly insurmountable advantage.
It appeared as though the outcome would be decided at No. 3 singles, where ETSU’s Giulia Andreazza and North Florida’s Marina Cunningham had split the first two sets.
As Cunningham seized the momentum in the third by grabbing the first three games, Agguire, on the adjacent court, began to mount her comeback.
When Agguire won her sixth consecutive game to close out the match, it was the second time in her career she had provided the clinching point for the A-Sun championship. She also did it as a freshman.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” Cohen said. “It’s college tennis, women’s college tennis. Some players really have the ability of being able to step up under great amounts of pressure, and we constantly work as a program at being uncomfortable out there and seeing how we can handle it.
“What it really came down to was composure in the big moments. I knew she could come back if she could get her way back in the match. At 4-1, I knew it was possible.”
Agguire said she first saw a glimmer of hope when she got it to 4-3.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous,” Agguire said. “As soon as I got those first three games, I said ‘Right here, this is the opening.’ I don’t even know how to describe it. As soon as I saw that ball fly out at love-40, I said ‘That’s it. I did it.’ ”
Salma Dahbi and Anna Gerbasi both had straight-set victories for ETSU, which finished 15-6, including a 4-0 victory over North Florida in the regular season. Gerbasi was chosen to the all-tournament team.
North Florida’s Lorena Aviles was chosen as the tournament’s MVP. Aguirre and Simona Weymar were also on the all-tournament team for the Ospreys.