MU vs. UCLA For National Championship In Doubles

Marshall. UCLA. National Championship. Never in the history of the MU athletic program has anyone dared dream those words would be written in any story, but on May 28, 2004, at the University of Georgia McGill Tennis Complex, the impossible became fact. MU's Jessica Johnson and Ashley Kroh beat New Mexico's doubles team of Maja Kovacek and Sandy Lukowski by the score of 3-6, 6-3 and 7-5 in the third and decisive set to advance to the National Championship match against UCLA on Saturday.

Marshall trailed throughout the first set, then roared back to take a 5-0 lead in set two. The Lobos doubles team battled back to 5-3 before the Herd put them away 6-3. In the third set, Marshall trailed by 1-2, 2-3 and 3-4 before tying the match at 4-4. Marshall then jumped to the lead at 5-4 before New Mexico tied the match again at 5-5. Marshall was then able to take a 6-5 lead and then advance to the finals with a 7-5 game, set and match.

UCLA defeated the number seven-seed in the tournament, Vanderbilt, in straight sets, 6-3 and 6-3. The Bruins were unseeded in the tournament and came in the 15th spot in the lineup, while Johnson and Kroh were 31 of 32 doubles teams. UCLA knocked off Alabama in the first round, then upset number six-seed, and PAC 10 rival, USC in the Sweet 16. The UCLA team then stopped the Big Ten's Indiana Hoosiers before knocking off their second seeded team in Vandy (from the SEC).

Marshall knocked off two seeded teams as well to get to the finals. The Herd started with the number two-seeded Cal Bears, then knocked off Michigan and Northwestern, the number five seed in the tournament, before beating New Mexico out of the Mountain West Conference.

"Unbelievable," Marshall head coach John Mercer said. "With all the attention and pressure, Jessica and Ashley did what they had to do to win. It was a battle of nerves and we were able to pull it out." Kroh was especially specific about what carried the day for the Herd duo. "The thing that won that match was desire," Marshall's Kroh said. "We didn't play our best, but we really, really wanted it. I am playing for an NCAA Championship, it is our wildest dream come true."

MU and New Mexico had a little history coming in to Friday's match. Marshall had practiced against New Mexico earlier in the year in an Intercollegiate Tennis Association tournament, but the match was the first-ever for the Herd and Lobos. Mercer and New Mexico head coach Kathy Kolankiewicz were both originally from Mount Lebanon, Pennslyvania. Johnson, a senior from near Pittsburgh, Pa., and Kroh, a junior from Louisville, Kentucky, are now 27-2 on the season.

The duo from UCLA, Daniela Bercek and Lauren Fisher, are 13-5 on the season for the ITA number eight-ranked Bruins. Fisher appeared in the 2002 NCAA Women's Tennis Doubles finals with another partner, losing in the championship game. In addition, Fisher is a former junior doubles partner of Marshall's Johnson. The pair were the #2 ranked junior doubles team out of Pittsburgh, Pa. "Tomorrow is going to be a lot of fun," Marshall's Johnson said. "Lauren and I are very close friends and we have played with and against each other a lot, so we will know what to expect." Marshall's Johnson and Kroh are ranked 32nd in the latest ITA poll. UCLA won the women's doubles in 1995, while no Marshall or Mid-American Conference team or individual from women's tennis had ever advanced past the first round.

"To the best of my knowledge, we have never had anyone make the NCAA National Championship in any of our Olympic sports," Marshall University President Dan Angel said. The MU men's golf team finished 11th in the NCAA Championship in 1962 and 17th in the 1976 NCAA Tournament. Marshall did win the NCAA I-AA Championship in football in 1992 and 1996, as well as the NAIB National Championship (today's NAIA) in men's basketball in 1947. "This is an awesome accomplishment and another green letter day for Marshall. Jessica and Ashley have spoken volumes for who we are, what we do, and what we represent (at Marshall). We are very proud of them and wish them all the best tomorrow in the national championship."

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