Martinez-Vich’s Winning Spirit

Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi was wrong — winning isn’t everything. Another Vince knows better.

“Wins are nice, but character lasts forever,” Vince Baldemor, the hard-working athletic direc- tor at Hawaii Pacific University, wrote on his Facebook page, after watching his No. 1-ranked HPU men’s tennis team finish as NCAA Division II National Runner-Up for the second straight year.

“Never more proud of this team — those who were there will know what the box score didn’t show. The Sharks represented our university with class and honor.”

HPU’s Jaume Martinez-Vich receives necessary fluids after the NCAA title match PHOTO COURTESY VINCE BALDEMOR

HPU’s Jaume Martinez-Vich receives necessary fluids after the NCAA title match

What the box score didn’t reveal as the Sharks fell to undefeated and second-ranked Barry University in the championship finals, 5-3, was a dramatic finish that tore at the heartstrings of all who witnessed it at the NCAA Tennis Championships in Surprise, Ariz.

HPU also was runner-up a year ago, but it avenged that title defeat this season by knocking off defending champion West Florida not once, but twice. After cruising to wins in the first two rounds at the national championships this month, the Sharks had to come from behind to beat pow- erful third-ranked Armstrong in the semifinals. In that match, HPU All-American Jaume Martinez-Vich battled cramps to hold off his challenger in an intense battle in singles.

One day later, Martinez-Vich, who played both doubles and singles, once again would be the pivotal point.

“He fought off championship point twice; his courage to play through the pain was amazing,” says his coach Hendrik Bode, who earlier in the week was named the ITA/NCAA II National Coach of the Year.

With HPU fighting back after being on the brink of defeat (once down 4-1, the match was now 4-3 and on its way to 4-4, with 5 points need- ed to win), Martinez-Vich had rallied from a set down to tie the match and then lead 5-2 in the decisive third set. If he could hold on and win — and that was the big if — HPU appeared headed for its first-ever men’s tennis national title.

But then, the dagger of fate stepped in — the dagger of severe cramps.

“He had done everything he could to prepare,” says his coach, “hydration, pickle juice, every- thing, but his body couldn’t handle it.”

First his legs twinged, then his back, then, according to Coach Bode, “his whole body cramped.” Since tennis rules allow only one injury timeout per match and that had been taken, Martinez-Vich had only two options: Quit the match or try to somehow keep standing.

He chose the latter.

“I’ll never forget his courage to try to play through it,” Bode says. “It was so sad and painful to watch, and yet it was the greatest effort I’ve ever witnessed. I couldn’t be more proud.”

The match finally ended with a third set victory for Barry, but as the new champions celebrated, the Sharks rallied to their fallen hero.

“They all came onto the court because they wanted to make sure he was OK. They handled the situation with so much class,” he says. “It stings to be so close, but the way they played was amazing to behold. A lot of people came up to us and said the same thing: ‘You couldn’t have given any more.’”

Moments after the match, Martinez-Vich was carried to the medical tent for necessary attention. He would be fine, and his teammates would never forget this day, as they sat around the hotel room afterward holding their heads high and remem- bering an incredible season and a heroic effort.

Coach Bode said it best: “We displayed a true winning spirit.”