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Bucs chasing eighth straight A-Sun tennis title

April 16th, 2014 7:19 pm by Joe Avento

Yaser Zaatini says it feels the same every year as his East Tennessee State tennis team prepares to defend yet another Atlantic Sun Conference championship.

“Standing here and getting ready to head down to Jacksonville, I’m getting butterflies,” said Zaatini, who won his fourth A-Sun coach of the year award on Wednesday. “It really feels the same.”

The Bucs have won seven A-Sun tournaments in a row. They’ll begin their quest for an eighth on Friday when they open this year’s event at North Florida against the winner of today’s quarterfinal between Stetson and USC Upstate. It would be their final A-Sun title as the school is moving back into the Southern Conference next year.

“The guys, you can feel, are pumped up,” Zaatini said. “You don’t want to think about any outcome, but you just can’t help but visualize how it’s gonna go down. That’s what happening right now.”

Despite an overhauled lineup from the last championship team, ETSU (12-8 overall, 7-0 A-Sun) is the top seed, just ahead of North Florida (13-9, 6-0). The two teams didn’t get to finish their regular-season match, which was abandoned after a second day of rain with the score tied 2-2.

The Ospreys shared the regular-season title with ETSU after a technicality left them undefeated in A-Sun play. They lost 4-3 to Mercer on April 5, but that match was declared a “no-contest” after North Florida won an appeal of Mercer’s lineup.

Winning championships might be commonplace for the ETSU program, but with five new starters, this group is trying to create its own legacy.

“We probably have two or three people who have gone through this,” Zaatini said. “Then we have five starters who have never been through this. I’m sure the pressure is gonna distribute equally when we hit the court. I want to think it’s more adrenaline and just excitement than pressure.

“Our seniors have always done a good job of explaining to the younger guys how this is done.”

ETSU has only one senior — Roger Ordeig — in the lineup.

“It’s really exiting for me to finish with a chance for four wins,” Ordeig said. “Basically, we would like to finish this conference and move into the SoCon with another championship. We’d like to keep that championship alive and be the team to win eight in a row.”

The Bucs have been led by freshman Ismael Merion, who won all seven of his matches against A-Sun opponents. Merion was also chosen the A-Sun’s scholar-athlete of the year for men’s tennis.

Sophomore Sebastian Yllera was 6-0 in conference matches.

Six ETSU players made the all-conference list released by the A-Sun on Wednesday. A pair of freshmen — David Biosca and Diego Nunez — were first-team selections, while Ordeig, Merino and Yllera were second-team picks. The Bucs also had two of the three all-conference doubles teams. Biosca and  Ordeig at No. 2, and  Conner Huertas and Yllera at No. 3.

“There’s no guarantee,” Zaatini said. “That’s why we play each match as it could be the last.”

The ETSU women (12-8, 7-1) come in seeded second behind North Florida (15-5, 8-0). The Bucs lost 4-0 to the Ospreys for their only conference defeat.

The two teams have met in the last four A-Sun finals, with North Florida winning three, including the last two. ETSU won in 2011, one of its three A-Sun titles.

ETSU opens on Friday against the winner of today’s quarterfinal between Florida Gulf Coast and Lipscomb.

Jessica Brumit and Salma Dahbi were both 7-0 in singles matches against conference opponents. Brumit, a junior from Elizabethton, was also chosen the league’s scholar-athlete of the year for women’s tennis. Lynn Ye Choo and Giulia Andreazza were first-team all-conference selections, while Brumit, Dahbi, and Anna Gerbasi were second-team picks.

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