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Nuggets beat NAIA's No. 1 team to win group tourney
April 26, 2014

Results:  Men    Women

     NEW ORLEANS — Carmen Nelson and Kourtney Howell were determined to overcome deficits Saturday. They did and delivered crucial victories for Xavier University of Louisiana in a 5-3 decision against NAIA No. 1 Georgia Gwinnett in the women's championship of the Unaffiliated Group 2 Tournament at XU Tennis Center.
     The Gold Nuggets (15-6), the NAIA's No. 2 team, won a conference or group tournament for the 10th time in 12 years. It was the the third straight year they won their unaffiliated group. This victory earned them an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship, which will start May 13 in Mobile, Ala.
     Xavier's 10th-ranked men lost 5-1 to third-ranked and unbeaten Georgia Gwinnett in the other championship dual.
     Nelson and her younger sister, Brandi, dropped four consecutive doubles games to give Paloma Cortina and Chiara di Salvo a 5-4 lead. But the Nelsons ignored the deficit and delivered a 9-7 victory that completed a Xavier sweep of the three doubles matches.
     "We just tried to come out intense and stay positive the whole time," Carmen Nelson said. "We hit a bad spot in the middle of the match, but we regrouped and said hey, we're not going to lose this."
     Freshman Nour Abbes gave Xavier a 4-0 lead — and improved to 14-0 in singles this season — with her 6-3, 6-2 victory against Valeria Podda in a matchup of the NAIA's No. 2 and 3 players. But the Lady Grizzlies (14-4) climbed back into contention with three consecutive victories, two by 6-1, 6-0.
     Howell, who clinched eight duals for Xavier a year ago en route to a first-ever national semifinal finish, got her second of 2014. After trailing 21st-ranked Judith van Fraaijenhoven 4-3, Howell won nine of the next 11 games and cruised home with a 7-5, 6-3 championship victory.
     "I came out slow and wasn't making any shots," said Howell, a two-time All-American. "Coach got on me in the middle of the first set. That got my energy up. I finally got some momentum, then I took over."
     Xavier earned its second victory of the season against an NAIA No. 1. The Nuggets' 5-4 victory March 9 at three-time defending national champion Auburn Montgomery vaulted Georgia Gwinnett to No. 1 the following week. But Saturday's match could end the Lady Grizzlies' three-poll reign and move the Nuggets to No. 1 in the next poll, which will be announced Tuesday afternoon.
     The Nuggets are the only NAIA team to beat Georgia Gwinnett this season.
     "We've had to play second fiddle to Georgia Gwinnett much of the season," XU coach Alan Green said. "We've been looking forward to playing them again since they beat us in February. We were ready for this moment, and we played well."
     Howell and Brion Flowers beat second-ranked Podda and Helena Korompis 8-1, then Abbes and Simone-Alyse Ewell defeated Ines Costamagna and Victoria Svennson 8-3. It was Ewell's 16th consecutive doubles victory, the last nine with Abbes as her partner.
     In the men's dual, Georgia Gwinnett (17-0) ended Xavier's streak of eight consecutive conference/group championships. The only Gold Rush victory came at the top doubles flight, where Kyle Montrel and Nikita Soifer upset 18th-ranked Luke Morland and Nathan de Veer 8-3.
     Montrel and Kevin Chaouat were leading their singles matches when the dual ended — Matias Hatem clinched with a 6-1, 6-3 decision against Viktor Svoboda. Hatem and Bruno Tiberti won in doubles and singles for the Grizzlies.
     "Our men gave a good effort, but Georgia Gwinnett was just too much for us," Green said. "They outworked us and played very, very well."
     Green expects the Gold Rush (11-11), with six victories against ranked opponents, to hold ground in the polls and secure an at-large bid to nationals. It would be the sixth consecutive year that the Gold Rush reach nationals.
     "Our men are one of the top 8-10 teams in the country," Green said. "We're capable of reaching the quarterfinals like we did the last two seasons. Depending on how the cards fall, we may go even further. With a little luck and us playing well, who knows where we could end up?"


Gulf Coast Athletic Conference

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
The Xavier Gold Rush and Gold Nuggets compete in Division I of the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) as a member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC). Xavier fields men's teams in basketball, cross country, tennis and track and field and women's teams in basketball, cross country, tennis, track and field and volleyball.

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