Freshman Richard Canelas stepped up to the challenge in the A-10 finals.
April 28, 2009
By Adam Kiefaber
CINCINNATI - During the weeks leading up to the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Xavier head coach Eric Toth continuously reminded his freshman, Richard Canelas, that he was going to win a big match before the season was over.
Then right before his match in the A-10 final on April 26 against St. Bonaventure, Toth reminded Canelas one more time.
"This is your day, you are going to get it done today," Toth told Canelas right before he took the court.
Canelas responded by defeating St. Bonaventure senior Leo Mochizuki in straight sets. The win secured a 4-0 win and gave Xavier its second straight A-10 championship.
"He was so focused and so fired up," Toth said. "And he beat a senior from St. Bonaventure that has won and played in a lot of big matches, he didn't do this off some chump.
"It was so impressive that Richard just closed him out, there were no hiccups along the way on finishing off the championship. It was so impressive and really neat to see."
The previous tournament matchup was a lot more stressful for the Musketeers. Tied 3-3 against Saint Louis, Xavier senior Doug Matthews was up against junior Ken Nordheim in a winner-take-all semifinal match.
"There is probably not a guy on our team you would rather have on the court than Doug just because he embraces those moments and he was outstanding," Toth said.
Matthews won the first set, 6-4, and lost the second, 3-6, to force the match into a third and final set.
Nordheim jumped out to 3-1 lead, before Matthews roared back to win the next six games en route to a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
"It was 3-all and I realized everything we worked for all year hung in the balance with Doug Matthews and who better to have on the court than the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year," Toth said.
"It was just a total gut-check victory for Doug. You could tell he was tired, but once he got it to 3-2, you could just see him catch his second wind, he just finished the match so strong. It was exciting."
While Canelas' and Matthews' wins were significant, Toth believes every player on his roster is just as responsible for Xavier's conference championship.
"Seven contributed to the win, but 11 guys played in and out all throughout the regular season and they have to show up to practice and push these guys every day. It was a total team effort and that is what it takes to win a championship," Toth said.
The championship gives Xavier a berth into the NCAA Tournament, the pairings for which will be announced this evening (April 28) at approximately 5:20 p.m. on ESPNEWS.
"It really doesn't matter who we play, we are just happy to be playing on our sports' biggest stage, but at the same time we are going there to win, we are not going just to show up," Toth said. "We want to improve on last year's effort, give it our best shot and we will see what happens at the end of the day."
Last year, Xavier was paired with No. 15 Illinois in its first-round match.
The Illini won 4-0 against a Xavier program that was making its first-ever tournament appearance.
This year, the Musketeers will probably be paired up against one of the nation's top programs again, but whatever happens, no team can take away what the Musketeers accomplished by wining back-to-back A-10 championships.
"This (title) was much sweeter," Toth said. "It just validated more what they did last year. There was more pressure on these guys this year and they handled it so well and played with such poise during the weekend."