Vernona - It was not an easy task but the top-seeded Army women’s tennis team rallied to defend its Patriot League crown for a sixth year in a row as junior Jurelle Mendoza’s thrilling victory at No. 5 singles clinched a 4-3 win for the Black Knights. Mendoza was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for her performance, which punched Army’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth year in a row.
Army and Bucknell have met in each of the last six title matches and Sunday’s battle was back-and-forth all afternoon. The marathon contest took over five hours to complete. Colgate hosted the tournament in its entirety at the Turning Stone Resort.
"Winning the conference is always sweet, but this year it was especially sweet," said 10-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Paul Peck. "We were down one of our starters (senior Kristin Beehler) and for this team to battle the way it did today against a very talented and hungry Bucknell team was unbelievable. They were really focused, played great doubles and when it came down to crunch time, I couldn’t be more proud of the way they delivered."
The Black Knights got off to an ideal start, sweeping the doubles point in convincing fashion. Juniors Anne Houghton and Jessica Ahn won easily (8-1) at No. 2 doubles, while classmates Michael Tollerton and Robie Verano collected an 8-2 win at No.3 to give Army a 1-0 edge early in the match.
Tollerton carried that momentum into a 6-2, 6-2 win over Carlin Calcaterra at No. 4 singles. The Sunshine State native enters the postseason having won 13 of her last 14 singles matches.
The top of Bucknell’s lineup battled back, as Tania Varela and Lauren Lucido topped Houghton and freshman Erin Colton, respectively, to knot the match at 2-2. The Black Knights dug themselves into a 3-2 hole after Ahn came out on the short end of a gripping 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 battle with Bucknell’s Demi Iepuras.
Mendoza faced Bucknell’s Dara Dwojewski at No. 5. The Garden City Park, N.Y., native fell just short in the first set by a 6-7 (5) tiebreaker score. Mendoza, who improved to 12-0 in singles matches this spring, rallied to take the second (6-1) and third (6-3) sets to set off an eruption of excitement at the Turning Stone courts.
The title marked Army’s 11th Patriot League title overall.