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Thomas and Azuero Win Liberty's First Ever Regional Doubles Title
The Liberty Flames men's tennis tandem of Shea Thomas and Jorge Azuero capped an improbable run through the ITA Atlantic Regional doubles bracket on Tuesday. The duo notched a come-from-behind, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, upset of the No. 17 doubles pair in the nation and No. 2 seed in the tournament, Andreas Bjerrehus and Amerigo Contini of Virginia Tech.
"There really aren't words to describe the amount of heart that Shea and Jorge displayed at this tournament," commented Liberty head coach Chris Johnson. "It comes as no surprise, as they have worked so hard to get to this point. I am very proud of them."
Thomas and Azuero became the first-ever Flames' doubles team to win the regional title. Before this weekend, no Liberty pair had ever advanced past the round of 32. Thomas and Azuero will now advance to play in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, which will be held at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Nov. 7-10.
Seeded 11th, Thomas and Azuero received a first-round bye, before collecting a second round victory over Temple's Sam Rundle and Vineet Naran, 8-5. The Flames' tandem then faced the first of four consecutive seeded opponents in Hunter Koontz and Joao Monteiro of Virginia Tech. Thomas and Azuero outlasted the seventh-seeded Hokie pair, 8-7 (5) to advance to the quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinals, Thomas and Azuero were pitted against Richmond's Ethan and Jacob Dunbar, who were fresh off an upset of reigning NCAA doubles champion Mac Styslinger and his partner J.C. Aragone of Virginia. Thomas and Azuero doubled up the 10th seeded pair, 8-4. The Flames' combination continued to roll through the competition, dominating the No. 14 seed from Penn State, Russell Fennell and Alex Bader, 8-3, in the semifinals.
Thomas and Azuero's most daunting match awaited them in the finals. Going up against the Hokies' No. 1 tandem, Thomas and Azuero dropped the first set, 4-6, in the three-set match. The Liberty duo evened the match at one apiece with a 7-5 victory in the second frame, setting up a winner-take-all third set. In the final set, Thomas and Azuero broke open a 3-3 tie to win 6-4, claiming the match and the title.
Also competing in doubles play for the Flames were Dillon Segur and Egon Samaai. After advancing past the first round via a walk-over, Segur and Samaai downed the 16th-seeded pair from Delaware, Adam Lawton and Troy Beneck, 8-6. The Liberty tandem fell in the round of 16 to Virginia Tech's Jai Corbett and Florian Nicoud in a tight match, 8-6.
In addition to his doubles title, Thomas posted a strong performance in singles matches. The senior rallied in his first match to defeat Georgetown's Danny Khanin, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. In a precursor to their doubles contest, Thomas ousted 12th-seeded Bader in another three-set match, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2. Thomas's run was ended in the quarterfinals by eventual tournament runner-up Ryan Shane of Virginia. The No. 3 seed outlasted Thomas, 7-6 (4), 6-4.
The Flames' three remaining singles players, Azuero, Samaai and Segur, each fell in their first round matches.