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Eagles deny Gold Nuggets a spot in championship round
May 16, 2014

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     MOBILE, Ala. — Xavier University of Louisiana's women's tennis season ended in the same place as a year ago: the semifinals of the NAIA National Championship.
     Fifth-ranked Embry-Riddle (Fla.), recording its second upset in as many days, won 2-of-3 doubles matches and 3-of-4 in singles to defeat the Gold Nuggets 5-2 on Friday at Copeland-Cox Mobile Tennis Center. It was the second straight year that Xavier (17-7) was eliminated as the tournament's No. 1 seed.
     "This loss really hurts," XU coach Alan Green said. "It feels much worse than the one last year because this year I thought we had the team to win it all. Today we just didn't do what it takes to get the job done."
     After sweeping the doubles in the quarterfinals on Thursday against Northwood (Fla.), the Gold Nuggets fended off two match points to avoid a doubles sweep by Embry-Riddle (18-5). Nour Abbes and Simone-Alyse Ewell led 6-2 on the second court against Anna Götz and Paola Montero, then lost five consecutive games before scrambling to get into a tiebreaker, then winning it 7-4 after trailing 3-0.
     Xavier struggled in its other two doubles matches. Kourtney Howell and Brion Flowers, the NAIA's fifth-ranked tandem, dropped their first five games against top-ranked Hui-I Huang and Kristina Marova before losing 8-6. Sisters Carmen and Brandi Nelson could not capitalize on a 3-2 lead and lost 8-4 to Eva Vilar and Paula Ortiz Couder.
     "It seemed like we were fighting for our lives as soon as we stepped on the court," Green said. "We just never could get a grip on the match. Give Embry-Riddle a lot of credit for the way they came out and beat us down the way they did. We were lucky to win at No. 2 doubles. It could've easily been a sweep."
     It could've easily been a sweep had Abbes not found a way to play with a stomach ailment — she started feeling ill late Thursday — and record both Xavier victories.
     Abbes was nothing short of indefatigable. The freshman produced two straight winners to send her and Ewell into a tiebreaker, then she hit three straight winners during the tiebreaker to put her and Ewell ahead to stay. Abbes ended the doubles when she smashed a forehand down the line.
     "I felt terrible after warmups. I wasn't sure I would be able to continue," Abbes said. "I have to give all the credit to (trainer) Allie (Wood). She took great care of me and kept me going, kept me on the court."
     Abbes was first off the court in singles after beating Huang 6-3, 6-1, and that tied the dual at 2. But while Ewell and Howell won their opening sets, they couldn't get off the court. Couder beat Amber Brown 6-0, 6-4 at No. 6, Montero defeated Brandi Nelson 6-2, 6-3 at No. 5, then Marova clinched with a 6-4, 6-3 decision against Flowers at No. 3.
     "Nour was sick, but she has the heart of a lion," Green said. "She's the type of player who is determined to win, no matter what is going on with her. We needed more of that."
     Abbes, the Wilson/ITA NAIA National Rookie of the Year, ended her sensational season 17-0 in singles and 16-2 in doubles. She was 12-0 with Ewell, a sophomore who finished 21-3 in doubles, 19-0 in her final 20 matches.
     It was the final XU competition for seniors Howell and Brown. Howell is the Nuggets' only two-time ITA NAIA All-American — this season's honors have yet to be announced — and Brown was a four-year letterwinner who helped the Nuggets qualify three times for nationals.
     Embry-Riddle, which beat fourth-ranked and three-time defending champion Auburn Montgomery in the quarterfinals, will meet second-ranked Georgia Gwinnett for the title at 9 a.m. Saturday. The Grizzlies — in their second season of varsity competition and 1-1 against Xavier this season — beat third-ranked Lindsey Wilson 5-2 in the other semifinal. This will be Embry-Riddle's second final; the Eagles lost to AUM in the 2012 title dual.
     "As hurt as I feel right now and as hurt as the team feels, at the end of the day we had a very successful year," Green said. "We're disappointed to end it the way we did, but we had a great season. It was a great feeling knowing that we went into every match with a great shot to win."


 

 
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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