UNCW Seahawks overtake Flames in fierce Senior Day matchup 4-3

The No. 48 Liberty University Flames fought hard as they barely fell to the No. 71 UNCW Seahawks 4-3 on Senior Day at the Cook Tennis Center. The day was filled with high levels of competition, intense emotions and unusual circumstances. 

The sunny weather and the electricity of the packed crowd made for an incredible final home game of the year. The Flames dominated the doubles sets early on to give them a 1-0 team lead over the Seahawks. UNCW, however, secured the match after winning four of the six singles matches played on Saturday afternoon. 

Many longtime Liberty fans attended the home finale to show love and support for the seniors. The thrilling match kicked off with the recognition of the three seniors on the team, Thando Longwe-Smit, Rafael Marques Da Silva and Deji Thomas-Smith.

The Flames destroyed the opening doubles set 6-4, led by Thomas-Smith and his sophomore teammate Luis Felipe Miguel. The doubles sets came to an early finish after Marques Da Silva and Longwe-Smit won their set 6-3. The Flames received a team point for winning the doubles sets, giving them a 1-0 lead over the Seahawks. 

After a fast start for the Flames, the crowd was roaring. The chair umpire had to deliver several warnings to Liberty’s student section for being too rowdy, but the Flames coaching staff and players were fired up. 

The rest of the contest consisted of six singles sets that were up to three games long between the Flames and the Seahawks, in which each set was worth 1 team point. The crowd had high expectations as it spread out between the six courts that make up the Cook Tennis Center. 

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

All eyes were on court number three as crowd favorite Thomas-Smith engaged in a tight competition with Seahawks senior Reece Falck. Both had strong serves and were not going to break easily. This back-and-forth rally made it all the way to 6-6 in the first game, leaving it all up to a 7-point tiebreaker. Thomas-Smith won the tiebreaker 8-6 and stole the first game. He was not going to let his final home appearance end without a fight. 

While Thomas-Smith was winning a nail-biter on court three, his doubles partner, Miguel, was taking care of business on court two. After an early break, Miguel took the first game of his set 6-4 for the Flames, and the home team’s momentum began to grow. 

At this point in the match, UNCW started to get in a groove and bounce back with several big points of its own. The Seahawks’ comeback was led by their No. 1 player, junior Harold Huens. Huens started extremely hot and used his powerful serve to win the first game 6-3 against Marques Da Silva.

The Seahawks continued to build off Huens’ play and find other success on courts four through six. Flames freshman Matija Samardzic played hard and kept the crowd entertained with his passionate expressions of emotion. However, his high-intensity style of play would cost him a hindrance call made by the chair umpire and a point in the first-game tiebreaker. Samardzic would then go on to lose the set and give the Seahawks more fuel. 

After the lead began to slip away from the Flames late in the match, the fans became much livelier. Feeding off this energy, Thomas-Smith handled his opponent well and won his second game 6-1 in impressive fashion, winning him the singles set and earning the Flames another team point to go up 2-0 over the Seahawks. 

Photo by Noah Seidlitz

While Thomas-Smith was playing hard, a massive bee outburst appeared on courts one and two that resulted in a 40-minute game delay. No one knows where the monstrous swarm came from, but according to the support staff, this had never been seen before by the Flames. Thankfully, a few brave souls finally removed the bees from the court and created a safer playing environment

During this peculiar delay on courts one and two, the Seahawks took a big lead on courts four and five. After a long, emotional and hard-fought battle, Samardzic was defeated in two games by the Seahawks’ No. 5 player, junior Trey Mallory.

Directly following the defeat, Longwe-Smit did not have enough to rally back after being down early in his set. He would go on to lose 2-1 in his last home game as a Liberty Flame. The Seahawks received 2 team points for their victories on courts four and five. 

Following the unusual bee incident, the Flames took back the lead on court two, and Miguel was able to finish what he had started. Miguel won his set 2-0. He never gave his opponent a chance and used his powerful style of play to keep the opposition far off the service line for the entirety of the match. 

The Seahawks then tied up team scores at 3 apiece after winning in two quick games on court one against Marques Da Silva. The last regular season match of the year came down to the final game of the last set of the day.   

Liberty’s redshirt freshman Chase Robinson showed his toughness in front of a full crowd and all of his teammates but was unable to bring home the victory for the home team. Robinson lost his set in an extremely close effort, two games to one. 

“Super thankful for the crowd and all the support the team has received all season,” Flames Head Coach Derek Schwandt said.

Although the Flames lost this matchup 4-3 against the Seahawks, they are headed to the CUSA Men’s Tennis Championship April 19-21, looking to perform well in their first conference tournament as members of CUSA.

Hendricks is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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