The Fairfield University women’s tennis team (14-7) was named the 2019 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions at their eleventh tournament appearance in program history on Sunday, April 28. The Stags upended the Quinnipiac University Bobcats (11-14), 4-3, to claim their winning title which secured a berth in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship Opening Round. The first match is slated for Friday, May 3 at 4 p.m. (EST) in Malibu, California against the #6 nationally ranked Pepperdine University. This will be Fairfield women’s tennis’ fifth appearance in the NCAA postseason (2004, 2009, 2010, 2012).
Quinnipiac started out dominant, with wins at #1 and #3 doubles, as well as a straight-set victory at #2 singles. Sophomore Anna Komer and Sophia Prinos ’22 hit the court and quickly caught up to the Quinnipiac’s 2-0 advantage when they each registered their own straight-set victories, Komer at #4 singles and Prinos at #5 singles.
Once more, the Bobcats surged past Fairfield in #3 singles, up one 3-2. The pressure was on 2019 MAAC Player and Rookie of the Year Amanda Nowak ‘22, as she faced the reigning recipient of both of those awards last year, Dominique Vasile. Nowak’s earned her accolades, posting a 17-6 singles mark and a 13-6 doubles record during the regular season. The freshman proved her competitive edge when she swept Vasile 6-4, 7-6 and leveled the match score at 3.
The underclassmen Stags proved to be strong competitors, especially up against more seasoned counterparts. Head coach Jeff Bricker tipped his hat to the younger group and their performance this year. He acknowledged Nowak’s substantial progress throughout the year, and noted that she has always been a winner, but her mental progression was tremendous in regards to her mindset on the court.
“She is turning into a really good listener and she takes coaching well. She’s definitely learning. That match on Sunday is one where in the past she may have gotten too frustrated to win a straight set, but she was able to keep it together and that’s great news.”
Junior Jessica Pil was left to decide her teams fate, going into the third set at #6 singles 1-1. The final frame is where Quinnipiac committed a match violation, allowing Fairfield to capitalize on their fault and clinch the victory. Pil nabbed the title of Most Outstanding Player over the weekend, when she tallied three wins and locked up the MAAC Championship.
“We were having a really successful season win or lose yesterday [April 28]. We’ve had a lot of young players- we’ve got three freshmen starting, another sophomore. [I] Kind of expected some growing pains and was pleasantly surprised at how well everybody has played all year. They’re gritty, they’re tough. The takeaways are: this is just the start, I hope. I think they there are going to be a lot of good things to come.”
Coach Bricker is tasked with the unique challenge of leading both the men’s and women’s varsity tennis teams. He understands the careful balance that he must find between managing both teams. Bricker’s tireless efforts earned him prestigious recognition as the 2019 MAAC Women’s Tennis Coach of the Year. He detailed how he keeps the counterbalance.
“Some people like a lot of technical advice, and others just want to be reassured. Trying to remember who you’re talking to, trying to make sure everybody is on the same page and relatively happy at all times is certainly a challenge but it’s enjoyable.”
Additionally, Bricker credited a part of his success to his assistant coaches Matt Cook and Ed Paige for their tremendous help, who are understanding of his unique position, in addition to the athletes who are so supportive of each other. He characterized the team as a cohesive unit that supported each other as one group.
“We do a lot of things together so if we’re going to a conference match, both teams go. So we’ll play one match and then another. In a lot of ways, it’s one big team and they really do support each other. To be perfectly honest, the women probably don’t win yesterday without the men being there, cheering them on and getting really loud for them- they were a huge help.”
Unfortunately, the men’s team was not as lucky as the women this campaign, finishing 6-16 overall. They concluded the spring season coming away from a 4-0 loss to Monmouth University. The Hawks went on to clinch their fourth straight NCAA Championship bid, and would have been challenging competitors even had the Stags been at peak health.
Although the men’s outcome is not what Stags fans anticipated, Bricker praised the men for their perseverance. Despite unforeseen obstacles like injuries which were out of their control. He mentioned that the women’s team were in a similar situation last year, “Under the circumstances, I couldn’t be prouder of them… Last year, the women were unbelievably injured and they didn’t make the tournament because they were down two top players. Obviously, luck and being healthy is certainly going to be a factor, but the women were able to stay healthy and they were able to push each other. That makes a difference.”
This offers tremendous hope for the future of the program, and the team’s ‘forge-on’ mentality is what will set them apart from other organizations. Bricker confidently concluded that the teams’ tournament experience will be invaluable going into next year, and their number one mission remains serving the university and themselves in the best way that they can.
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