Two Cougars win singles titles at ITA West regional

By Jared Pine, guest writer

The Azusa Pacific men’s and women’s tennis teams took three of the four titles in the 2015 USTA/ITA Fall West Regional Championship for NCAA Division II at Cal State L.A. on Saturday. APU’s Natalie Johnson won the women’s singles draw and Jan Meyer won the men’s singles draw before pairing with Pascal Engel for the men’s doubles title.

Engel, Johnson and Meyer will each go on to play in Sumter, South Carolina, starting on Oct. 15 where they will meet the winners from each of the other seven regions. The winners in Sumter will then go on to play in New York.

Women’s Tennis

Last year, Johnson was just a pair of points away from disrupting an all-BYU-Hawaii final, falling 11-9 in the third-set tiebreaker. This year, the Cougar No. 1 found her best tennis in the crucial moments for a pair of three-set victories followed by a 6-2, 6-2 dismissal of Nozomi Matsuoka to become the first Cougar to win the women’s singles draw at the NCAA Division II level.

Johnson was the No. 3 seed at the tournament and defeated the No. 5 seed Nikki Newell and No. 1 seed Kyra Scott to reach the final where she defeated the No. 2 seed Matsuoka, who is the No. 1 player from host Cal State L.A. The Cougar No. 1 has now defeated Matsuoka in two of their three meetings.

The quarterfinal was a rematch of Johnson’s final match of the 2015 season in which Point Loma’s Newell defeated Johnson 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the Sea Lion’s upset win over the Cougars. Newell finished the 2015 season ranked No. 13 in the west region behind Johnson at No. 8, and the Cougar justified her ranking with a 2-6, 6-3, 10-5 comeback victory.

UC San Diego No. 1 and top seed Scott, who had defeated Johnson in a third-set tiebreak last spring, was her semifinal opponent. After Scott forced a deciding tiebreaker, Johnson didn’t allow a repeat, winning 1-6, 6-3, 10-7 to reach the final.

Men’s Tennis

For the fourth consecutive year, the West Region’s singles representative in the USTA/ITA Fall National Championship will be a Cougar, and for a second time that Cougar is senior Jan Meyer, who is now 17-1 in his career at the tournament with his only loss coming his freshman year to teammate and doubles partner Jochem Hoefnagels. Hoefnagels went on to win the title in Azusa Pacific’s first year of participation in the tournament.

The following year in 2013, Meyer won the tournament, while dropping just one set in a tiebreaker. This year, however, the Cougar No. 1 didn’t lose more than four games in any set in his run to the title. Meyer will now look to improve upon his third place finish at the national tournament in 2013, which remains the best result by a Cougar at the event in the four years of participation.

This continues what has been an outstanding offseason for Meyer, who finished the 2015 season as the No. 1 Division II player in the nation. This summer, Meyer successfully qualified for five ITF Futures main draws and won two of his matches, including one on clay in his native Germany and one on the hard courts in Claremont, California, to earn his first career world ranking coming in at No. 1,614.

Meyer cruised throughout the tournament, beating the No. 7, 6, and 3 seeds in his final three matches, winning 36 of the 44 service games played. In the final against No. 3 seeded Axel Bouillin from UCSD who had taken a set off Meyer last year, the result was never in doubt as Meyer dominated in the 6-2, 6-0 triumph.

Meyer parlayed the success over to the doubles court with junior Pascal Engel, where Bouillin fell victim to the Cougar duo again 8-4 in the semifinals. Then Meyer and Engel defeated the No. 4 seeded pairing of Hugo Colpart and Matt Halligan 8-0 of Holy Names University to book their spot in the doubles draw in South Carolina.