Samford’s men’s tennis team won a share of its first regular-season SoCon title by virtue of a 5-2 road win on Friday against Chattanooga.
In head coach Rahim Esmail’s first season with the Bulldogs, Samford finished with a 9-1 conference record.
“Rahim was awesome this year,” sophomore Garrison Laduca said. “He brought a lot of experience from his playing years and really got us going on the right foot.”
In Friday’s match individual winners were Elliot Barnwell, Zac Dunkle, Garrison Laduca and Alexander Sajonz.
Dunkle and Sajonz teamed up to win one of two doubles matches for the Bulldogs. Fernando Costa and Carson Kadi were the other winning pair, earning an 8-2 victory over Chattanooga’s doubles team.
“Rahim has instilled within our team the work ethic, intensity and positive morale our team displays every time we compete,” Dunkle said. “That is what has won us every dual match this season.”
With the two doubles victories, Samford earned a point. The singles wins each earned the Bulldogs one additional point.
Sajonz was the lone man to win in straight sets in singles play, ousting Jackson Tresnan with a 6-3, 7-5 score.
Two crucial matches for the Bulldogs included a Barnwell comeback win and Laduca’s match, which required a tiebreaker in the third and final set of the match.
Clinching the victory for Samford was Dunkle, whose 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 win over Chattanooga’s Roberto Vieira brought his season record to 12-7.
Charleston, who went into the weekend with a perfect SoCon record, allowed Samford to share the regular season title by losing to Appalachian State and defeating Davidson.
The Cougars and Bulldogs finished the season with identical 15-4 marks, and tied atop the SoCon with 9-1 conference records.
“Being co-regular season champions is awesome and we are all very happy with the way our season has progressed,” Dunkle said. “Our team goal is to win the SoCon tournament again this weekend so we can make it to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.”
Samford’s next task is to defend its SoCon title from last year in the conference tournament.
The Bulldogs have earned a first-round bye in this year’s tournament, which will be held this weekend in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. The second seed in the tournament, Samford will face either Wofford or Georgia Southern in their first match.
“Being the number two seed in the tournament is nice, but every team in the SoCon is tough,” Dunkle, a junior said. “No matter who we play we have to perform well as a team.”
Throughout the season, the Bulldogs have had a fantastic sense of team, which Dunkle said was a key part of helping the team win a share of the regular season title.
“The entire team really respects Rahim and we have a great relationship,” he said. “This is why we have been able to improve as players and have such a successful season.”