Upset victory propels Lady Paladin Bentley to finals

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- They might want to rename the ITA Collegiate division of the Little Caesars/ETSU Tennis Championships the Furman Invitational.
   For the second-straight year, a Lady Paladin has reached the finals.
   This time it's Caroline Bentley, a 6-1, 6-3 upset winner over No. 2 seed Meryl Mekus from Southwest Texas State in semifinal round play on Thursday afternoon.
   Bentley is trying to follow in the footsteps of last year's champion, former Furman teammate Megan Dunigan.
   "It will be good to see if I can do what Megan did last year," Bentley said. "That would be nice, because she is Furman's winningest player. It would be nice to have something with her."
   Bentley, a 6-0, 6-4 victor over ETSU's Jessica Irey earlier in the day during quarterfinal action, was happy with how she played in those two matches.
   "I had a tough one this morning, and I was happy to pull out that one," Bentley said about her match with Irey. "(Mekus) was seeded two, so I knew she had to be pretty good. But I was playing with confidence. I played pretty solid today."
   Bentley faces a tall order in this morning's final, as she will take on Florida State's Brooke Cordell. Cordell advanced to the final with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over UNC-Charlotte's Ashleigh Murray.
   Cordell, the top-seed in the tournament, thought she had to fight against the Lady 49er.
   "I just had to find a groove there in the first set," Cordell said. "I was struggling just a bit. She was playing well, and I wasn't keeping it up in the court."
   Cordell isn't too familiar with Bentley, but says their paths have crossed.
   "I think we might have played once," Cordell said. "It was a long time ago. I know we split sets, and I really don't even know who won. I know it was so hot that day, and we split sets. It probably wasn't the best of matches, obviously."
   Cordell won this event two years ago, but knows she will have her hands full with Bentley.
   "She's a good player," Cordell said. "I'm going to have to play a little better than I did today to win."
   The men's singles final will be an all-ACC affair, as Virginia's Steven Nolan and North Carolina's Jonathan Janda will meet in the championship match.
   Nolan did his part to secure the ACC clash with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over Florida's Chris McDonald.
   During Thursday morning's quarterfinal round play, Nolan was tested in a 6-0, 7-5 victory over Chattanooga's James Dickerson.
   "It feels good," Nolan said. "It's been a long day. I'm glad to be there."
   Nolan is keeping a positive outlook going into his match with Janda.
   "You always have to think you can win it," Nolan said, who is seeded No. 3 in the tournament. "I'm going to come out ready to play.
   Janda advanced to the championship round with after having two tough matches on Thursday. Janda defeated Middle Tennessee State's Brandon Allan 6-2, 7-6 in the quarterfinals, then he knocked off ETSU's Alejandro Salazar 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals.
   Janda broke Salazar in the first game of the match, and the Buccaneer had to play catch-up the rest of the way.
   "It was pretty big," Janda said, who is the top-seed on the men's side. "I won the toss, so I usually like to receive when I win the toss. It gives me a chance to break in the first game, because maybe the guy is not warmed up or is not ready to play. I can go ahead and get on top of them early."
   Despite being from ACC schools, Janda and Nolan have not played each other.
   Janda probably won't let the fact Nolan is from a rival school bother him, as he just wants to continue playing the way he has throughout the tournament.
   "I think I've been playing pretty well," Janda said. "It's been awhile since I've played in a tournament."
   Salazar was unseeded going into the event, and ETSU's lone representative in the semifinals thought he played well.
   "I played pretty good tennis," Salazar said. "I'm happy with the tennis I played."