KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Huntingdon freshman Lee Howell had no thoughts of being named tournament MVP during this weekend's Great South Athletic Conference men's tennis tournament.
But Howell's performance helped Huntingdon seal a 5-0 win over Piedmont to win the GSAC championship on Sunday at the University of Tennessee. Howell teamed with Tyler Creamer for a key win at No. 2 doubles and then won 6-3, 6-4 at No. 4 singles to end the match and earn MVP honors.
This is the Hawks' third conference title as a member of the GSAC. Huntingdon won the men's title in 2008 and 2009.
"Being MVP is an awesome feeling and it's not something I expected," Howell said. "But the main thing this weekend is how great it feels for our team. Everyone played a part in making this happen. We were all focused and we all wanted a ring."
The championship match was the third time Huntingdon and Piedmont have met this season. Piedmont took the two regular-season matches by a score of 6-3 each time.
"This is a great feeling, especially after losing to them in the finals last year when we felt like we should have won," Huntingdon head coach Charlie Lane said. "We had lost to them twice this season, but we felt like we had the better team and our guys played like we knew they could this weekend."
Last season, Huntingdon swept Piedmont in the regular season but lost to the Lions in the tournament championship.
"We were so close last year but we came up short," said senior Sean Jackson, who was tournament MVP as a freshman when the Hawks last won the conference title. "It feels good to come back and win in convincing fashion."
Huntingdon opened Sunday's match with three doubles victories for a 3-0 lead. Jackson and Zac Baldwin won 8-6 at No. 1 doubles and Larry Pritchett and Tyler Chaffee won 8-5 at No. 3 doubles. The win at No. 2 doubles wasn't as easy as Howell and Creamer had to rally to win 9-8(1).
"Winning all of the doubles matches was huge," Howell said. "We (Howell and Creamer) were down 7-3 at one point, but we kept each other up. When the other two doubles teams won, we knew what we had to do."
Lane said the 3-0 start was a huge momentum builder for the Hawks.
"Once a team gets down 3-0, it puts pressure on them," Lane said. "They know they have to win five of the six singles matches or it's over. That start was huge for us.
"We were focused and ready to play this weekend. The guys that were here last year, they helped us a lot today. They remembered how bad it felt to lose last year and they let the younger guys know. None of us wanted that feeling this year. The guys came out and played well on Saturday and played even better today."
In singles, Tyler Chaffee's 6-1, 7-5 win at No. 6 gave Huntingdon a 4-0 lead and Howell's win ended the match with four individual matches unfinished. Of the four unfinished singles matches, Huntingdon split sets at No. 1 and No. 3 and was leading in the second set at No. 2 and No. 5.
No. 1: Zac Baldwin (HC) vs. Moses Das (PC) 2-6, 6-4, unfinished
No. 2: Tyler Creamer (HC) vs. Joel Silverberg (PC) 6-1, 5-3, unfinished
No. 3: Sean Jackson (HC) vs. Patrick Steck (PC) 6-3, 4-6, unfinished
No. 4: Lee Howell (HC) def. Nick Hallberg (PC) 6-3, 6-4
No. 5: Larry Pritchett (HC) vs. Chris Davidson (PC) 7-6, 1-0, unfinished
No. 6: Tyler Chaffee (HC) def. Jay Evans (PC) 6-1, 7-5
No. 1: Jackson-Baldwin (HC) def. Das-Steck (PC) 8-6
No. 2: Creamer-Howell (HC) def. Davidson-Hallberg (PC) 9-8(1)
No. 3: Pritchett-Chaffee (HC) def. Silverberg-Evans (PC) 8-5