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Colleges Remarkable turnaround culminated with Fairfield’s run to MAAC women’s tennis title

May 3, 2019

FAIRFIELD — There were plenty of positive vibes throughout the recruiting process as Jeff Bricker secured the commitments from three talented recruits but it wasn’t until a mid September day when he saw Amanda Nowak, Aina March and Sophia Prinos win their singles matches to lead the Fairfield women’s tennis team past rival Sacred Heart when he began to ponder the possibilities.

The win over the Pioneers marked the first of six times that the young Fairfield squad would beat a team that handed it a loss a season ago. The redemption tour never felt better than the most recent match that the Stags played.

Since Quinnipiac joined the MAAC, Fairfield couldn’t beat the Bobcats. The Stags had plenty of company as no other conference team could slow down the Bobcats who won their first 54 matches against MAAC competition including five consecutive MAAC tournament titles. The streak almost came to an end last month before the Bobcats emerged with the hard-earned 4-3 win over Fairfield. Eleven days later the tables were turned.

Nowak and Prinos won in straight sets at No. 1 and 5 singles, sophomore Anna Comer and junior Jessica Pil won their matches at No. 4 and 6 singles to give Fairfield the 4-3 win in the MAAC tournament championship match.

“It was surreal,” Bricker said. “After we won, I sat there for a few minutes and said I can’t even believe it. It came down to the wire like the first match did, it was very exciting, a lot of drama.

“It is a great accomplishment, they have worked really hard this year, I am really excited for them. It is a great stepping stone and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Fairfield finished 6-10 a season ago and didn’t even qualify for the MAAC tournament. The Stags defeated six of the 10 teams they lost to a season ago and will take a 14-7 record into Friday’s 4 p.m. NCAA first-round match at No. 6 Pepperdine.

“Early on I knew we had a lot of talent, it is hard to gauge who it is going to come together, injuries can sometimes factor in but we were lucky to stay relatively healthy,” Bricker said. “You could tell early on that they wanted it really bad, we got a couple of wins early which always helps with the confidence. Once you start get rolling, we had a pretty good feeling that we were at least going to be in the mix.”

Nowak led the Stags with a 16-2 singles record in dual matches including a 6-0 mark playing at No. 1 singles, classmates March and Prinos combined to go 13-14, Comer was 13-6. It wasn’t only the youngsters having all the fun. Junior Diana Prinos was 4-3 at No. 2 singles and junior Jessica Pil recorded a 6-0 record at No. 5 singles to key the turnaround.

“It is a really big deal,” said Nowak, who was named the MAAC’s Player and Freshman of the Year. “I didn’t come into the season expecting to win MAACs, I came in hoping we could make it to the MAAC tournament and see what happens. It is crazy that we won after Quinnipiac won the last five years.”

Now comes the real challenge. When Fairfield won the MAAC tournament three times from 2009-12, the Stags didn’t win a set in falling twice to Southern California and once to Stanford in the NCAA tournament. It won’t much easier against a powerful Pepperdine team that has reached the quarterfinals in two of the last three tournaments.

“We know it is going to be a big challenge, they are No. 6 in the country for a reason,” Bricker said. “We want to go out there, represent ourselves and play our best, whatever happens happens.”

james.fuller@hearstmediact.com; @NHRJimFuller