Sweet Victory Earns Auburn Sweet 16 Berth

Auburn, Ala.--The 12th-ranked Auburn Tigers brought out their "A" games on Sunday as they swept past SEC rival Mississippi State to earn a berth in the NCAA Championships that start on Saturday at College Station, Tex.

The Tigers took a 4-0 victory over the 28th-ranked Bulldogs to win the first NCAA Regional event ever played at Auburn's Luther Young Tennis Center.

The victory was a particularly sweet one for a trio of Auburn seniors who will make their first appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16.

"I couldn't be happier for our seniors," says sophomore Rameez Junaid, the No. 1 singles player for the Tigers, who clinched the victory with a straight sets win over the nation's eighth-ranked singles player, Romain Ambert. "Our team goals have been to get to host an NCAA Regional at home, win that and keep on winning when we get to the next rounds. We aren't going to be satisfied until we win them all."

Rameez Junaid says he believes his Tigers can challenge anyone at the NCAA Championships.

Nobody had a more impressive day than senior Mark Kovacs, who bounced back from an off-day on Saturday to slam dunk his opponent Luiz Carvalho at No. 4 singles. "I think that was my best match of the season," says Kovacs, a 6-0, 6-0 winner. Earlier in the day, he teamed with freshman Andy Colombo to win the No. 2 doubles match 8-6 to help the Tigers pull out the doubles point.

"I was disappointed in how I played vs. East Tennessee State and I was determined to play bette," Kovacs says. "This is special winning my last home match in the NCAA Regional. It is also special because my parents (from Australia) are here to see me play."

Mark Kovacs double-bageled his opponent from Starkville with an impressive display of serving and ground strokes.

Auburn coach Eric Shore says, "I have seen Mark play a lot of great matches and it looked like he was on top of his game. He just overpowered Carvalho out there. He was aggressive from the start."

Senior Tiago Ruffoni and Junaid won the No. 1 doubles 8-5 and Ruffoni was hanging tough at No. 3 singles despite competing with a sore elbow. Ruffoni won his first set 6-4 vs. hard-hitting Jerome LeBelicard and was up 3-2 in the second set when the Tigers clinched.

"The elbow was still bothering me today," admits Ruffoni, who served underhanded on Saturday because of the pain. However, he used his normal service motion on Sunday, but the six-foot-seven right-hander had to grind down his opponent rather than overpower him. "I just tried to keep the ball in play and wait for an opportunity to attack," he says.

Ruffoni says it feels great to finish his senior home season on such a high note with everybody playing well. "This was truly a team victory," he says. "This is a great way to finish my last home match."

At one singles, Junaid took a very impressive 6-1, 7-5 victory against Ambert, a quick Frenchman who came into the match with a 37-9 record. "I had to have some patience because he is a very steady player, which is something you would expect from a Top 10 player," says Junaid, who is ranked 21st nationally in singles.

At No. 2 singles, freshman Colombo had too much heat in his big service game for Rene-Charles Combette to handle. Colombo took a 6-3, 6-4 victory and helped celebrate the match victory by drenching Coach Shore with a bucket of ice water, much to the delight of the entire team that was in a festive mood following the victory in front of a happy home crowd.

"We appreciate all of the fans who supported us this weekend," says Junaid. "They were a big help."

At No. 5 singles, senior Estevam Strecker played well in a tight match with David Ruiz that was called after Auburn clinched. Strecker, who was dominating in singles on Saturday in the team's 4-2 victory over East Tennessee State, fell 7-6 in a first set tiebreaker and was at 2-2 when play was halted.

At No. 6 singles, Andre Boz dropped the first set to Aymeric Henou, but was leading 4-3 in the second set when that match was called.

Auburn, which improved its record to 19-7, will play either Stanford or Washington next Saturday at Texas A&M University.

Coach Eric Shore

"I am really happy for this team, particularly the seniors who have worked hard the past four years and have improved each season," Shore says. "We have gotten to the finals of the regionals and hadn't gotten over the hump until this year so this is great. I don't think this team is going to be satisfied with just getting to the nationals. I think they will be going there with the idea that they want to win every match they play."

In Nashville, Tenn., the Auburn women's fell 4-0 to sixth-ranked Vanderbilt in the finals of the NCAA Regional. Auburn, which is ranked 29th nationally, finished its season at 15-9.

Three of Auburn's losses came to Vandy, which improved its record to 27-4.

Despite not winning a point, Coach Troy Porco says his team played well. "Our players should be proud of what they accomplished this season and with us losing only one senior the future looks bright for this program."

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