Top 13 of 2013: Men's Tennis Wins First Little East Title Since 1990
This is the twelfth in our Top 13 of 2013 series. Every day for the rest of 2013, we will count down the Top 13 moments/games of the year, with each program represented. With three Little East Conference Titles, several huge upsets over nationally ranked teams and some dramatic finishes-2013 was another step forward for UMass Boston Athletics.
No team's success came as more of a surprise than the Little Conference Regular Season and Tournament Champion Men's Tennis team's.
The Tennis program, which had not won a title on the men's side since 1990, entered the season projected to finish in third-place in the Little East after a strong 2012 campaign. While the preseason projection was a new program-record high, the Beacons were still dwarfed by two-time defending champion UMass Dartmouth, and most coaches saw the Corsairs cruising to another title.
That's when the Beacons stepped in. Men's Tennis enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history, overcoming a 2-3 start to wrap up the regular season with a 12-3 record and a program-best 10-game winning streak. In their final game of the regular season, UMass Boston knocked off Bridgewater State to set the program-record for wins in a single-season, while earning their first perfect regular season in the LEC (6-0).
All of their success in the regular season though set up a dramatic showdown with UMass Dartmouth, after both programs easily cruised to wins in the Little East Semifinals. While the Beacons dominated UMass Dartmouth (7-2) in the regular season to snap a five-game losing streak against UMD, the Corsairs promised to put up a better fight in the finals, after not having their full roster available for the first match.
Playing in front of their largest crowd all season, UMass Boston quickly took a 2-1 lead after doubles play in the Little East Conference Championship Match, with a pair of 8-2 victories at second and third flight doubles.
The Beacons added to their lead at fourth flight singles, as co-captain Charles Lai (Boston, Mass.) cruised past Ray Lawton 6-2, 6-0 to put UMB within two points of their first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
UMass Dartmouth countered with two straight points of their own to tie the match at 3-3, with wins at number one and number five singles.
That's when things began to look ominous for the Beacons, after dropping two-straight points to the Corsairs, reigning Little East Conference Rookie of the Year David Hernandez (Bogota, Colombia) began to cramp. Despite leading one set to zero, the sophomore fell to the ground at three different junctures during the second set of his second-flight singles match and eventually had to withdraw, gifting the Corsairs a 4-3 advantage.
That put all the pressure on junior Eglis Bizhoti (Kucovë, Albania) and senior captain Alex Loyer (Chelmsford, Mass.), who needed to win their matches to lift UMB to a title.
Bizhoti tied the match at 4-4 with a hard-fought 6-4, 6-2 win at number six singles to set up a dramatic finish.
With the match on the line, everyone's eyes turned to court three, as Loyer and UMass Dartmouth's Matt Bejtlich battled for an LEC title. Despite giving up several inches to Bejtlich, Loyer won point after point, wearing down the Corsair player by extending points and consistently finding a way to return near-winners.
After earning match point, Loyer forced Bejtlich to send a forehand long, to lift himself to a 6-4, 6-4 victory and the Beacons' to their first Little East Title since 1990. Loyer was named Little East Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player for his perfect 4-0 mark in the tournament at number three singles and number two doubles.
The Beacons' dramatic season didn't end there, as UMass Boston earned the Little East Conference's automatic bid and nearly became the third program in school history to capture a win in the NCAA Tournament. UMass Boston drew Skidmore College and rushed out to a 2-1 lead after doubles play, only to lose their momentum and the match (5-2), after a lengthy rain delay forced the two teams to play the remainder of the match indoors.