Following last Saturday’s 5-2 win at Austin Peay, the Golden Eagles stamped their name in conference record books as co-OVC regular season champions.
Tech finished the season 10-12, 8-1 OVC, with its only conference loss at Eastern Kentucky on March 13 in a close 4-3 bout. The Colonels finished the season with the same conference record as Tech, leaving both schools to share the crown.
Despite the slow start after the loss at EKU—the team’s first OVC opponent—the Golden Eagles rallied to win eight-consecutive conference matches to bring home the hardware to Cookeville.
"We were happy for the team,” said Tech tennis head coach Kenny Doyle. “We had competed well all year and knew that we would have chances in the end—and we did. It’s exciting.”
After a 7-0 shutout win at Murray State on Friday, the Golden Eagles headed to Clarksville, Tennessee the next day, determined to gain one more match win to tie EKU for the championship. Tech tallied the scoreboard first, striking early in the No. 3 doubles match. Freshmen Eduardo Mena and Jorge Alfonzo took down Manuel Montenegro and Aleh Drobysh 8-6. The team then put away the doubles point during the No. 2 match, as senior Artem Tarasov and junior Alvaro Cintas doubled Aaron Jumonville and Aleksas Tverijonas’ score, beating the pair 8-4.
In singles play, Alex Arovin defeated Dimitar Ristovski 6-4, 6-4 in the No. 1 match to give his team the early singles advantage. The junior, who finished 3-0 in last week’s two-game weekend slate at Murray State and APSU, was named the OVC Tennis Athlete of the Week Tuesday morning.
Although the weekly award was Arovin’s first since transferring from Oklahoma State to Tech in 2013, the conference had bigger plans for the Donetsk, Ukraine native. At the OVC Awards Dinner Thursday night before the start of the conference tournament on Friday, Arovin was named the OVC’s Player of the Year. He joins 10 former Golden Eagles in the annual accolade, most recently Syrym Abdukhalikov in 2013.
Arovin wasn’t alone in his success, though, as three others with the team were awarded. Eduardo Mena, who finished 15-5, 6-1 OVC in singles play, was named the OVC’s Freshman of the Year. Mena’s first and only loss on the year against an OVC opponent came Saturday, as Governors’ senior Aleksas Tverijonas outlasted Mena 6-3, 6-4.
The loss broke an 11-game streak for the newcomer, but he said his focus remains on team success.
"We work as a team, altogether,” said Mena. “We knew (after the loss at EKU) that we would have to win the rest of our matches to win the conference. We did it and it was hard, but the work was done and we won, and that’s all that matters.”
Mena is the first Tech freshman to win the honor since Alejandro Augusto’s campaign in 2012, and is the fifth since the award’s birth in 2005.
While Arovin was selected to the conference’s all-OVC first-team, Mena and sophomore Alberto Esteban were added to the second-team. Esteban, a 2015 preseason all-OVC selection, met expectations, finishing 6-1 in singles and an impressive 7-0 in doubles matches with Arovin.
But for any good player, there’s always complementary coaching along the way. For the third time since his arrival in 2009, head coach Kenny Doyle was awarded the title as the OVC Coach of the Year, only this year shared with Austin Peay head coach Ross Brow.
Doyle led the Golden Eagles to an 8-1 OVC record and an undefeated 5-0 record at home—which helped bring back the co-conference championship. His success is particularly notable, as the season title is the third of its kind under the Doyle, who led Tech to the top at the end of the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons.
While his team has achieved significant seasonal success in recent years, Doyle and cast have been unable to win the tournament championship, too, which is what crowns teams as official OVC team champions.
The head coach says the difference in winning both championships and simply just fairing well in the season is in the details, but also in the intangibles.
“In 2012, we were up and had match points to win the doubles points like seven times, and they just didn’t execute and make things happen,” said Doyle of his team’s previous postseason play. “It’s all about execution, belief, trust and just hanging in there and being gritty.”
Both co-conference season champions have a first-round bye in this weekend’s OVC tournament at the Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville, Tennessee.
EKU will enter as the No. 1 seed because of its tie-breaking, head-to-head record (1-0) this season against Tech.
In pursuit of their first OVC tournament title since 2006, the Golden Eagles will face the winner of Friday’s 2 p.m. first round between Austin Peay and Morehead State. The two teams will then play in Saturday’s semifinal, also set for 2 p.m., with the tournament concluding after Sunday’s championship final.