©Colette Lewis 2005
--College Station TX--
In the stillness of the warm Texas evening, UCLA celebrated its first NCAA Division 1 men's tennis title in 21 years with a stunning 4-3 win over the top-ranked and defending national champion Baylor Bears. The stunned crowd, overwhelmingly clad in Baylor yellow, witnessed a comfortable 3-1 lead dwindle as twilight turned to dusk at the George Mitchell tennis center on the campus of Texas A & M.
First UCLA's Alberto Francis at number 5 and, just a few minutes later, Phillip Gruendler at number 6, won three-set thrillers--Gruendler in a tiebreaker--to pull the match even. Earlier, Baylor had taken the doubles point and Benedikt Dorsch (number 1) and Michal Kokta (number 4) had given the Bears their lead, with Ben Kohlloeffel (number 2) earning seventh seeded UCLA their first point.
So, at 3-3, the number 3 singles contest betweeen Bruin Kris Kwinta and Baylor's Lars Poerschke would decide the national title.
Kwinta had dropped the first set, 6-4, and barely hung on to an early lead in the second, winning it 6-4. But Kwinta broke at 1-1 in the third, and tough and tense as the subsequent games were, he maintained his lead.
"I just focus on what is happening on the court," said Kwinta when asked afterwards about the pressure of being the deciding match.
Poerschke saved two championship points at 3-5, when Kwinta was twice overruled on calls (in college rules, that costs him a point), and Poerschke kept the Baylor fans hopeful when he closed out the ninth game with two aces. But even at 5-4, 30-all, Kwinta kept his concentration, winning the next two points to send his teammates into a celebratory rugby-scrum and the dazed Baylor fans home to Waco wondering how it had slipped away.
"I'm still numb," said UCLA coach Billy Martin, whose teams had three times been finalists in the national title match, including last year's loss to Baylor.
"I've learned from those losses," Martin said, "and I felt comfortable that the seniors had too."
"We stopped Illinois' streak last year (in the semifinals) and maybe that took a little bit of our energy for the finals," Martin said. "But I told the team last night, we stopped Illinois' streak and tomorrow night we'll stop Baylor's streak and win the national championship."
And though it wasn't the ending that the Baylor faithful had anticipated, they recognized that their team had contributed mightily to a thrilling and memorable national championship final.
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
©Colette Lewis 2005