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NAIA membership ends with another national tennis championship

In 2003, Kris Miller’s Eagles captured the men’s tennis national championship to give OC its first team title in any sport.

2012 brought an encore performance, delivering OC’s last-ever NAIA championship. (Oklahoma Christian has left the NAIA to enter the NCAA Division II membership process).

The national title bumped OC’s all-time team total to five, including men’s golf in 2009 and 2011 and men’s cross country in 2011. OC also won 40 individual/relay NAIA championships in golf, cross country, and track and field.

This year’s tennis championship wouldn’t have happened without two gritty comebacks. In the semifinals against No. 2 Embry-Riddle (Fla.), OC trailed 3-0 and 4-1 before rallying to tie the match at 4-4. Then, Jaime Sanchez-Canamares came from 3-1 down in the third set to win his match and clinch OC’s 5-4 win.

In the finals, an exhausted Bruno Tiberti, the No. 1-ranked player in the NAIA, did the same on a hot, humid Saturday against No. 1 Fresno Pacific (Calif.) with the national championship on the line.

Down 4-1 in the third set, he summoned the strength to win the final five games and take the decisive match 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, setting off a raucous celebration by the Eagles.

“I’m not sure how we pulled it out,” said Miller (94), who earlier in the week was named as the Wilson-Intercollegiate Tennis Association NAIA Men’s Coach of the Year. “We just kept saying all week, ‘Just believe, find a way.’ And we did. Our kids are incredible student-athletes. It just happened to be our year, I think.”

Tiberti’s pressure-packed comeback helped make him the NAIA’s Ward-Ballenger Outstanding Player.

“It’s not that good to express my emotions right now,” said Tiberti, who after the match. “I can’t. I just can’t. We worked so hard. It just happened. I don’t know how. I was losing, I was done. I said, ‘I’ve got to push some more.’”

Tiberti’s rally followed a key win by Sanchez-Canamares, who beat Cledson Carvalho 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6) at the No. 3 singles position to tie the match at 4-4. It was one of three matches the Eagles won by taking a decisive tiebreaker.

“Both of them were just pure guts,” Miller said of the wins by Sanchez-Canamares and Tiberti. “They had nothing left in the tank. It was all just heart. Jaime came up with some big plays at just the right time. He played big, played strong to finish. And Bruno, classic example of winning ugly. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, doesn’t matter how you play as long as you’re playing to win. He found a tactic that was working. It was ugly to everybody but me. It was beautiful tennis.”

Sanchez-Canamares, Tiberti and Martin Poboril were named to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s NAIA All-America team. Poboril and Renardy Guelfi earned first-team Academic All-America honors from CoSIDA and Capital One.