With history within its grasp, the Rattlers tennis team, known for its resiliency during close matches, missed its chance Sunday afternoon to earn its first championship in 12 years.
After saving two match points in the final set of regulation, Florida A&M was unable to capitalize as it fell 4-3 to conference-rival South Carolina State during the 2012 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship at the Millbrook Tennis Center in Raleigh, N.C.
The deciding game came down to the Bulldogs’ Dmytro Kovalevych and Levan Clark during the second singles position. With the match tied at three points, Kovalevych saved a third point break by Clark to earn a 6-2, 6-7, 6-1 victory.
The win gave No.1 seed SCSU (17-3, 5-1 MEAC) its fifth-consecutive MEAC championship and 10thoverall while denying No.2 seed FAMU (13-9, 3-1 MEAC) its first since 2000.
This marked the Rattlers’ third-consecutive championship finals appearance and 13thoverall.
“It’s unfortunate that things ended the way they did,” assistant coach Simba Happy said after the match. “This loss hurt because our guys put forth a lot of effort; the heart was there. We entered the tournament mentally and physically ready. We just played a great team, and they came through in the end.”
Sunday’s defeat marked the Rattlers’ fifth consecutive defeat to the Bulldogs, including a 4-2 loss during last year’s MEAC championship.
The Rattlers took an early lead by claiming the doubles point with victories in the first and third position.
SCSU earned its first point during the fourth singles position as Peteris Vinogradous defeated Chidi Gabriel to even the match at one point apiece. The Bulldogs carried its momentum to the fifth position as Artemiy Nikitin rolled over Fabrice Myrtil 6-2, 6-0.
“It was a good run from us,” said Gabriel, who also earned All-Tournament honors in doubles play with Salif Kante after an 8-3 victory. “We fought hard but came up a little bit short in the end. We just have to regroup and come back next year.”
The match intensified down the stretch with the Bulldogs winning the third singles position and the Rattlers clinching the sixth position. Kante followed with a 6-3, 6-1 victory in the first position to tie the match three-all.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” said Kante, the 2012 MEAC player of the year. “I didn’t expect to lose the championship. We made it that far, but you don’t want to lose when you’re close like that. I am still proud though. We did everything right and it came down to the last match.”
FAMU defeated No. 3 seed Coppin State 4-0 during the quarterfinals Friday. The Rattlers then trounced No. 4 seed Norfolk State by the same score the following day during the semifinals to advance to the championship.
Kante and Temuera Asafu-Adjaye earned All-Tournament honors for their victories in singles play, while Asafu-Adjaye and Takura Happy scored All-Tournament honors for their victory in the third doubles position.