ERIE, Pa. - Redemption.
That was the motivation for the Franciscan University of Steubenville men's tennis team, which beat reigning Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference champions Penn State-Behrend, 7-2, Sunday to claim the top spot in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
The Barons (6-5 overall, 6-0 AMCC) lost to the Lions in last season's conference championships. This was the third match in three days for FUS, which used the momentum to topple its opponent.
"Our guys have been playing all weekend and it has kept us focused for this game," Barons assistant coach Shannon Irvin said. "We were the underdogs today and had nothing to lose. They played great and earned the win."
FUS went up after winning two out of the three doubles matches. Captain Paul Jarzynka and junior Brian Robau won 8-4 while freshman Zachary Quiza and senior Leonel Lacayo followed up with an 8-1 victory.
"Going up that early really took the pressure off of our guys in the singles matches," Irvin said. "It allowed us to play less conservative and really take the win."
Strong singles play iced the match for the Barons, who won all but one of their matches. Sophomore John Shultis clinched the victory for his team with his 6-4 win in his second set.
"I came out really strong in my first set and carried that momentum to win the match," Shultis said. "We are a strong team that has a lot of depth and it showed in our victory today."
Shultis' strong play was matched by Jarzynka who had what is described by Irvin as one of his most impressive matches he has ever had at FUS. Jarzynka lost his first set 6-4 and then bounced back to win 6-2.
"Coming out, my opponent controlled the play," Jarzynka said. "He is a great player and we have had some close games in the past. After winning in the second set, that momentum carried over to the clincher and it turned out to be a fun game."
Before the final set, Jarzynka was informed by Irvin that Franciscan had won thanks to a clinching victory from teammate Shultis.
"Knowing that the game wasn't riding on his shoulders really took the pressure off him and he was able to relax and dominate the final set," Irvin said.
The final set featured many lead changes and tight moments for Jarzynka. After the team captain was up 9-7, his opponent took an 11-10 lead and Jarzynka, with focus and motivation from his teammates, beat his opponent 14-11.
"There was a lot of camaraderie during that match," Irvin said. "All of our guys were encouraging him. It helped motivate Paul and it also got in his opponents head."
After finally winning and taking the top spot in their conference, Irvin talked about the team's future and mentality.
"It's amazing right now," Irvin said. "We are on a 6-0 winning streak in the AMCC and it is such a reward for our hard work to beat the champions. This team doesn't need to search for motivation. We have been planning for this for a long time and we want to ride this momentum into the championships this year."
The Barons host West Virginia State at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Belleview.