Top-seeded Blazers fall in NCAA Semifinals, 4-1

May 15—ORLANDO, Fla. — The top-seeded Valdosta State men's tennis team saw its season come to an end with a 4-1 loss to No. 4-seed Barry in the NCAA Division II Men's Tennis National Semifinal Sunday afternoon at the USTA Training Center.

"It turned out to be a better match than we thought," head coach John Hansen said. "The doubles were close, but they (Barry) pulled it out. "The singles were interesting as we started out on top and they beat us down a little bit and we came back again, but we just couldn't quite pull it off. It was a great season and we had some wins we didn't think we could possibly win, including one against Barry, but you only get the feelings on the last match. It hurts a lot, but we hope we can be here again next year."

Despite the loss, the Blazers finished the season with a 21-1 record, won the Gulf South Conference regular season and conference tournaments and reached the national semifinal round for the first time since 2011. VSU won national titles in men's tennis in 2006 and 2011.

Barry (24-5) advances to battle No. 2-seed Columbus State for the national title Monday evening. Columbus State downed No. 3-seed University of Indianapolis Sunday afternoon in the other semifinal match, 4-2.

The Buccaneers won the doubles point with wins at Nos. 2 and 3, but Blazer duo of juniors Rodrigo Carvalho and Luca Mack, ranked No. 15 nationally, downed No. 10 duo of Alejandro Gallego and Arnau Rodriguez, 6-3 for a 1-1 doubles count, before Barry's Alessandro Giuliato and Alejandro Palacios won 6-4 at No. 2 over sophomore Lamar Bartley and senior Christian Felline. With the win at doubles, both Mack and Carvalho should be in contention to earn ITA All-America honors for doubles, as the new rankings will be released on May 24.

In doubles play, Barry jumped out to a 3-1 lead early in all three matches, before the Blazers responded as Carvalho/Mack took command and broke a 3-3 tie to go on for the win at No. 1 after Barry's Tim Buttner and David Rieme won 6-2 at No. 3 over juniors Pedro Cordeiro and Christian Wedel.

Heading into singles play, Giuliato won at No. 3 over Bartley, 6-2, 6-2, for a 2-0 lead, but Wedel, ranked No. 55 nationally, responded with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Rodriguez at No. 4 for a 2-1 deficit. Buttner won 7-5, 6-1 at No. 6 over Cordeiro for a 3-1 score.

Mack, ranked No. 2 nationally, had a 5-4 lead and set point in the first set, but No. 32 Alejandro Gallego responded to win 7-6 (7-3) in the first set and then won 6-4 in the second, handing Mack just his second loss in singles play for the entire season. Mack finished one of the best singles seasons in school history 25-2 with a national runner-up finish at the ITA Fall National Championship, earned Gulf South Conference Player and GSC Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors, as well as being named VSU Male Athlete of the Year. Mack should also be in contention to earn All-America honors for the second-straight season in singles.

Felline, at No. 5 singles, split the first two sets with Rieme and trailed 5-1 in the third set, before rattling off four-straight games for a 5-5 score when the match was decided. Carvalho, ranked No. 48 nationally, won the first set over No. 27 Palacios, dropped the second set 6-1 and battled back in the third set for a 4-3 deficit when the match was clinched.

The Blazers return just about everyone for the 2023-24 season and look to return to the national championship for another chance for the program's third national title.

Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.