The Gloucester County College Men's Tennis Team made some history this week in Plano, TX at the NJCAA Division III National Championships. The team narrowly defeated tournament favorite Nassau CC by the slimmest of margins to earn their fourth consecutive National Championship. No other NJCAA Division III Men's Tennis Program has accomplished this "Four-Peat". This was the 24th overall NJCAA National Championship for Gloucester County College.
The Roadrunners used a perfect 8 for 8 performance on the first day of the tournament to put themselves immediately into the lead, a lead that was in jeopardy often but that the team would never surrender. Donovan Vassalotti provided the early boost for GCC in the morning singles matches with a nearly three-hour first round win over Gustavo Linde (Oxford College) by scores of 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3 at #1 singles. Vassalotti's running one-hand backhand passing shot to win the first set tiebreaker was one of the shots of the tournament. Freshman Mike Perrone had his most impressive match of the season handling the #2 seed Alex Day at second singles 6-0, 6-0. Day was the defending Individual National Champion at that position. #3 Singles Shamell Martin defeated Nick Collins (Onondaga CC) 6-4, 6-1. Jon Sjolander and Nick Louis scored decisive wins at #4 and #5 singles, respectively, as well. In the afternoon doubles matches, the Roadrunners top two doubles teams scored straight set wins. The match to end the day turned out to be not as easy as Aaron Williams and Tim Durham were pushed to a third set tiebreaker by Oxford College. The Roadrunners closed out the match with two straight overhead slams and a crucial 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) win.
The second day of play also featured morning singles matches. The Roadrunners #1 Vassalotti and #3 Martin were knocked out but played well. Perrone came up with a 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 win over Ambrose Tingan from Brookdale CC who had previously defeated Perrone in the Region 19 Tournament. Jon Sjolander defeated #2 seed Jiabo He 6-4, 7-6 (5) and Nick Louis defeated #2 seed Eric Sapiro 6-4, 6-2. The final singles match came at #6 singles where Tim Durham was the top seed. He faced Nassau CC's Will Otremba in a swing match between two teams in the hunt for the team championship. Durham fought over nerves that led to a 6-0, 5-4 lead for Otremba and came back to win the second set 7-5 and the third set 6-0 in a wild match that swung the momentum for both teams. Due to severe weather in the area the afternoon doubles matches had to be cancelled meaning Championship Thursday would be longer and more grueling than ever.
Championship Thursday at Collin College always brings drama and emotion. This year was no different as all the contenders had fallen away except for Gloucester CC and Nassau CC and both had lots of matches to play. The Roadrunners were in four singles final round matches. At #2 singles, Mike Perrone's run came to an end to undefeated #1 seed Matt Kallenberg from Nassau in a tough 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 battle. #4 singles Jon Sjolander played one the best matches of his career but fell 6-4, 6-3 to Kevin Burgess. The Roadrunners two wins came from their depth at the bottom of the lineup. Freshman Nick Louis, the teams most improved player from the start of the season, pounded out a 6-2, 6-0 win at #5 singles. Fellow freshman Tim Durham scored his second three set win by defeating Rich Mills 6-4, 4-6, 6-2. Both were elated to help the team stay atop the leaderboard heading into the afternoon doubles play and both would be named 1stTeam NJCAA All-Americans.
Roadrunner #1 doubles Don Vassalotti and Mike Perrone fell in the semifinals to the top seeds and eventual champions. The #2 team of Sjolander and Louis played a great match against Nassau CC's Kallenberg and Burgess that could have gone either way but went to Nassau in two tiebreak sets. The final semifinal match for GCC proved to be the most important. Roadrunners #3 doubles Aaron Williams and Tim Durham faced Nassau CC in the final head to head matchup between the two teams. The match was a roller coaster ride the whole way with both teams loudly supporting their teammates and most of the rest of the teams and coaches watching as they all knew this match could decide the team title. The Roadrunners had previously been soundly defeated by this same team during a dual match in the regular season but won the first set 6-3 behind steady play by both Williams and Durham. Nassau came back in the second set with a 6-3 win. The decisive third went 6-3 to Roadrunners after Durham hit a service winner on match point and the team celebrated this great win. The win would be the match that clinched the title for the Roadrunners due to another match that Nassau lost on another court. Williams and Durham went in the finals at #3 doubles but lost another long three set match but both were named 2nd Team All-Americans and had great tournaments for the team playing tough three set matches each time they stepped on the court.
For the Roadrunners, this win capped off another fine season but one that had some ups and downs. The Roadrunners faced some injury concerns going into the tournament and had finished second at their NJCAA Regional Tournament. All the members of the team stepped up to contribute to the team point total and the team spirit grew as the week went on. The team was not favored to win but never doubted themselves and came up with their best tennis when needed. The final point totals show that with less than a point separating the top two teams, any single match could have determined the championship. It was an outstanding championship event.
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