For a short while at Sunday’s USA South Tournament championship, the favorite turned into an underdog.
N.C. Wesleyan took two of three doubles matches and won two of the of the first three singles matches to be completed, meaning it needed to win only one of the three remaining matches. The only issue: The Battling Bishops were losing all three to a Methodist team intent on spoiling the Bishops’ home-court championship.
After more than two hours, many nervy volleys and two N.C. Wesleyan rallies, the Bishops clinched their six consecutive USA South Tournament title, beating Methodist, 6-3.
The Bishops won the regular season meeting by one, and Sunday was a pairing of two teams that knew each other well.
“They saw that they had a chance of getting a different result against us,” N.C. Wesleyan coach Andres Amores said. “They came out here fired up and wanted to win this just like we did. That’s why it was very intense the whole match.”
N.C. Wesleyan (12-7) gave itself an initial edge when Ben Tolhurst and Philipp Vylegzhanin – who had lost their first doubles match against Methodist – won, 8-4, at No. 3 doubles.
“Doubles was the best we’ve played all season,” Tolhurst said. “We lost to Methodist the first time we played them, but myself and Philipp held some good serves there. It all just went really well.”
In the give and take that took place all afternoon, though, the Bishops’ No. 1 doubles team of Mikhail Konnov and Peter Hviid was upset in a tiebreak.
When the match swtiched to singles, Vylegzhanin quickly defeated Max Mancini, 6-2, 6-1, and Elias Kerem also was able to win in straight sets. The Bishops needed only one more match victory, but Hviid, Konnov and Eduardo Ugalde all lost their first sets and trailed in their second.
Konnov eventually lost to Duncan Miller at No. 1 singles, putting the conference title in the hands of Hviid and Ugalde.
Greg Patterson played Hviid very defensively, not looking for winners but instead waiting for Hviid to make mistakes. For a while, the strategy worked. Patterson won the first set, 6-4, and broke Hviid’s serve to take a 5-3 edge in the second set.
“I was playing pretty bad. I was doing all the wrong tactics at the wrong times. That’s why he was winning, to be honest,” Hviid said. “I had to be more patient and start working his forehand.”
Hviid was able to rally for four straight games to extend the match, while Ugalde also was able to force a third set on the other court. Ugalde quickly took a 4-1 lead in the third set only for Dillon Sullivan to take two straight games.
“Whenever you start to think things are going your way, that’s when they start turning around,” Amores said. “The good thing about him is that he had a tough first set and tough start of his second set, and he was able to turn it around. Once he started playing more aggressive, things started turning around for him.”
From that point, Ugalde was able to ward off Sullivan, clinching the match for himself and his team.
Hviid won in a third-set tiebreak to start the Bishops’ fun. They drenched Amores with a Gatorade cooler and jumped in the fountain at the center of campus.
Their biggest rival from 2014 is behind them.
“They hate us,” Tolhurst said with a smile. “They really wanted to beat us, and we don’t let them. We don’t let Methodist win. That’s just how it is.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com