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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

UCLA Wins First Women's Tennis Title; Georgia Refuses to Relinquish Their Men's Crown in Tulsa

©Colette Lewis 2008--
Tulsa, OK--

Two teams that had endured prolonged bouts of illness and injury during the season found their form at just the right time, with the UCLA Bruins taking their first women's championship with a 4-0 win over Cal-Berkeley Tuesday afternoon and the Georgia Bulldogs successfully defending their 2007 title with a 4-2 victory over Texas Tuesday night at the Michael Case Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa.

Cal coach Amanda Augustus commented that the Pac 10 clash between her team, seeded eighth, and No. 7 seed UCLA may have been the longest 4-0 match in history, and there's no doubt the final score was deceiving. It took nearly an hour and a half for UCLA to take the doubles point with a win at No. 3, after Cal had won at No. 2 and UCLA at No. 1. Fortunately, weather conditions were ideal, with temperatures in the upper 70s and little humidity or wind, so the four-hour competition was more emotionally than physically draining.

In singles, the first sets were 3-2 in favor of UCLA, with the match at No. 2 between Tracy Lin and Marina Cossou at 5-5 in the first. But by the time Cossou had taken it in a tiebreaker, UCLA had posted its second win, with senior Alex McGoodwin taking out Bojana Bobusic 6-4, 6-1 at No. 6. With UCLA leading 2-0, it looked as if Bruin senior Liz Lumpkin would give her team a comfortable 3-0 lead when she was serving up 6-2, 5-2 at No. 5, but Cal's Stephanie Kusano won the next five games to earn an split, a big psychological boost for her team.

At No. 1, Bruin senior Riza Zalameda had fought back to even her match with Susie Babos after dropping the first set 6-3, taking the second by the same score. At No. 4, Andrea Remynse had managed to take the first set in a tiebreaker from Claire Ilcinkas, and then quickly went up 4-0 in the second set. Again, there was no sense the contest was over, and it wasn't, as Ilcinkas took a medical timeout when down 5-0 and came back to win the next two games.

But Zalameda had taken control of her match with Babos, and in the blink of an eye, both she and Remynse had reached match point.

"At my first match point, I heard everyone in an uproar," said Zalameda, who was separated from the finish on Remynse's court by two other matches still in progress. "And I double faulted, I just got so scared. But the next point, I just knew this was my time. Time for UCLA, time for history."

As McGoodwin, Remynse and other team members and coaches rushed toward Court 1 to celebrate their first title in six trips to the final, including last year's 4-2 loss to Georgia Tech, Zalameda savored it all.

"It was just a dream come true," said Zalameda, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "I went down to my knees, and I looked at my teammates and they were running towards me. That's the moment I've been dreaming of. My teammates, my family, it was so fun, it was great. I couldn't ask for more."

With Yasmin Schnack out for a substantial portion of the dual season with a hamstring injury and McGoodwin also injured during the season, coach Stella Sampras Webster's team, at one point ranked No. 2 in the country, suffered five losses. But she never believed they were anything but the best team in country.

"This was just our year to win it," said Sampras Webster, who received a text message of congratulations from her brother Pete. "Even with the most talent, it's still difficult to win the national championship. This team dealt with the pressure and the high expectations, the adversity, in such a great way, and that's why they won this championship, because of the maturity and experience I have on this team. With four seniors, they led this team."

First-year Cal coach Augustus admitted that the defeat stung, but having reached the semifinals last year and the finals this year, likes the progression the Bears are making.

"It's not going to be a tough sell," she said of reaching the ultimate goal of a title. "We have a good portion of the team coming back, and they are a very motivated group of young women. I think this team, when they get over being upset that they lost this match, is going to be proud that they are going to go down in history as the first Cal women's team to make the NCAA finals."

The Georgia Bulldogs could certainly sympathize with UCLA's injury problems, as Christian Vitulli, Travis Helgeson, Luis Flores and Javier Garrapiz all were out for chunks of the season due to injury and illness. In Flores' case, it was not one, but two stress fractures this winter, but both healed in time for the senior to return to competition in late March.

With three losses on their record this year, there were no comparisons made to the 2007 National Championship team, which went undefeated and dominated opponents throughout their run to the title, claimed at home in Athens. Without Flores in the lineup, Georgia surrendered their National Indoor crown to Virginia in February, but the Bulldogs refused to surrender their NCAA crown, roaring back from the doubles point loss to both Virginia in the semifinals and Texas in the final to take 4-2 victories from each and capture the program's sixth NCAA team championship.

"I was out of words for what these guys accomplished tonight," said coach Manny Diaz, who has coached four of the six NCAA championship teams. "I probably did less coaching today than I've ever done. I saw it in their eyes yesterday. They competed like true champions."

After dropping the doubles point with losses at the No. 2 and No. 3 positions, Georgia took only three first sets in the singles. Had the match ended there, Texas would be returning to Austin with the trophy. But at No. 1 singles, Travis Helgeson, playing against the team he competed for in 2005 and 2006 before transferring to Georgia, fought back against Dimitar Kutrovsky, taking the second set.

Texas had taken a 2-0 lead when Miguel Reyes Varela dropped Vitulli 6-4, 6-3 at No. 6, but Nate Schnugg had countered for the Bulldogs with a 6-4, 6-2 win over good friend Kellen Damico at No. 2, avenging his loss to the freshman at the Team Indoor. Jamie Hunt pulled Georgia even with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Luis Diaz Barriga at No. 4, and Garrapiz had just earned a split with Longhorn Milan Mihailovic at No. 5.

Flores had dropped his second set to Ed Corrie at No. 3, but had an early break in the third. Helgeson, however, was down 3-1 to Kutrovsky in their third set, so it appeared the deciding match might be Garrapiz and Mihailovic, which was just beginning the final set.

That was before Helgeson reeled off five straight games.

"I was just focusing on trying to get some rhythm, some momentum back," said Helgeson of his performance early in the final set. "I was struggling with my serve, I wasn't holding very easily, wasn't getting a high percentage of first serves and was forcing the issue too much. He's got an unbelievable return and the ball stays so flat and so low, that it's very tough to handle. I just wanted to get that break back and get a good solid hold, and that's what I did. Once I got up in the set, I felt I had a chance to close it out."

Helgeson closed out not just his match, by a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 score, but also the season and the title, as moments before, Flores had completed his 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 win over Corrie. Flores barely had time to join his teammates on the sidelines of court one before the celebration began.

"For Luis and I to lead them through this match is just an unbelievable moment for us," said Helgeson. "Last year it was kind of who could get done first. Now it's much different circumstances. This year is special because of all the issues, the adversity we've had to overcome and the challenges."

Flores agreed.

"It was a terrific journey this year. I don't want to compare, but I think this year tastes a little bit sweeter because of all the ups and downs, and the big shoes that we had to fill. But in the end we pulled it through and it was great the way we competed."

Texas coach Michael Center credited Georgia for the late surge that ended the match.

"They made more plays down the stretch. We lost to a great team, so there's nothing to hang our head over. I'm disappointed, I thought we had a chance, but I have to give Georgia the credit."

Consecutive national titles are rare, with only five other teams accomplishing it, but for Georgia there was something even more special about the 2008 championship. It is the first time they have taken the title away from Athens.

"They can't say we can only win it in Athens anymore," Diaz told the crowd after accepting the trophy on behalf of his team and the university.


Brent said...

Colette, thanks for your coverage as always. Very well done. It was fun watching it on ESPNU as well, although the coverage of the back courts almost made me seasick.

Brent said...

The season ending got me thinking about next year. Who will be viewed as the favorite? Always subject to what foreigners are coming in (I don't know but would be interested in color anybody else has) or who is thinking about turning pro (Schnugg, Clayton, etc.) But, in the absence of that, here are a few suggestions....

- Ohio State has everybody back except Eberly, although they can't seem to get over the hump in the big match

- USC loses Van't Hof but brings in Steve Johnson, Kecki, and Kells - that team is deep

- Stanford - I know it would be a big jump but if Clayton doesn't turn pro, a lineup of Clayton / Thacher / Bruch / Klahn / Muller / Wire is awfully good if Bruch can get healthy

- Baylor loses their #1 but was really coming on at the end of the year

- Texas - lose a couple seniors at the bottom, but that's a pretty solid top 3

- Georgia and Virginia - would seem both are poised to take a little bit of a step back losing a couple guys each at the top of the lineup, but they always seem to be there

Any other thoughts?

Austin said...

Well that match pretty much went the way I thought it would for UGA. They played solid, but Texas certainly gave a great effort. At the end of the day they just didnt have the top-end talent of UGA and thats what wins championships.

The womens final also went pretty much how I thought it would. UCLA had the most depth this year and it showed.

I am sticking with Devvarman for the mens title over Brugues like I said two weeks ago. In the doubles I am going with Devvarman/Huey over the first round winner of Corrie/Damico and Farah/Van't Hof. I think Somdev will pull off the double because he had a day off yesterday and Im sure is ready to get revenge.

On the womens side I will go with Zemenova over Mijacika in singles. In doubles Ive got Moulton-Levy/Zoricic over Gloria/Rowe.

Austin said...

Next year, west coast domination:

UVA-I think they probably fall out of the top10.

Ole Miss-Will have their worst year in a long time, they graduate a ton of people.

Baylor-Will return to the top5 with a shot at the title.

UGA-Will stay top8, but probably not threaten for the title.

Florida-Will take a small step back after losing top two players.

FSU-May challenge for the semifinals, but not a title.

Pepperdine-Return everyone other than top player.

UCLA-Lose Srugo, but Abid steps back in and fills top spot and we all know Martin will sign some guy weve never heard of who will fill Dehaines spot at three and be back competing for the title.

USC-Definitely in top4, great shot to win the title with amazing depth.

Texas-Return the top three and dont really lose anything from the two seniors graduating.

Stanford-Should go from decent to the top immediately. Bruch will probably move all the way back to three or four, either way they will have the best four guy in the country by far even if its Klahn. Wire will have gone from the top all the way down to the five spot in two years.

Ohio State-The team to beat. Return all six starters. Novak will move to four. They will never lose the doubles point, making them virtually unbeatable. They will be so strong throughout the lineup that even with choking they should still coast into the final four.

Preseason Rankings
1)Ohio State
10)Florida State

dawgs said...

austin has WAY too much time on his hands !!!!!!!!!!

Joe said...

You can't really tell until the foreign guys signing comes on. For example, I know UVA has signed at least two overseas guys, one of them has already been top-1000 ATP. I'm sure other teams will do the same. Should be just as interesting next year.

AndrewD said...

Yes, congratulations to the NCAA for selling the coverage to a network that isn't available to the average person outside the States. What better way to showcase the best in college tennis than by ensuring the least number of people can see it. Not the the Tulsa 'live' footage was much better. There was so much 'film/gauze' on the screen it was like an Angela Lansbury close-up on 'Murder She Wrote'.

gsm said...

Austin, just wanted to say good job on calling the Georgia win (both over Virginia and overall). Got a chance to watch both matches and the better team won. I knew going in that Virginia was pretty much assured the points at #1 and #6 and likely the doubles. I just didn't think that Georgia (who was clearly healthy) would be able to sweep the other 4 singles or at least it would take some special circumstances. I think the ability of Georgia to jump all over Virginia at the start of the singles had the Hoos climbing uphill instead of the other way around, which should have happened after the doubles. Travis played well, but Devvarman really seized control of the match from the start of the 2nd set and never let go. I think any tennis fan would enjoy the way Somdev interacts with the crowd and makes them part of the match. I thought Treat would be able to put up more of a fight, but Schnugg was just too much in all departments. Flores was clearly healthy and may have played as well as anyone on their team. Against Texas, there was just a clear talent difference as he controlled the 1st set. I think Flores may have actually let up a little bit (after crushing Inglot and rolling in the 1st vs Corrie) which caused the 2nd set blip. I think that's why he was able to easily reassert himself in the 3rd. Flores actually mentioned that the second broken foot was a blessing in disguise b/c it was likely going to happen eventually anyway based on what the doctor said. Might as well take care of it now instead of during the pros.
It was hard to say which of their top 3 guys was actually playing the best in Tulsa. Each was very effective.

I agree with you about changing the matchups at 5 and 6 for Virginia. A healthy Garrapiz was a bad fit for Shabaz who just wasn't able to end the point. He got into too many long baseline rallies. Shabaz has been working on dropping weight all year. I think he's down 25 lbs or so. Garrapiz makes you hit so many extra shots and plays great defense. Since the 5/6s on most teams are typically baseliners anyway, it would (in hindsight) likely have been better (as you mention) to put the Sr. Angelinos at 5 and then have the aggressive Barrick at #6. Plus, don't underestimate the extra games/energy Shabaz had to play/use in doubles, since they couldn't serve it out initially at 7-4, instead going 9-7. There were a number of long points where Shabaz would eventually tire out and be out of position, having to slap or slice a forehand that had no chance to clear the net (instead of his typical topsin version).

Not sure if you got this from the video, but the Garrapiz/Shabaz match was rather contentious from a fan perspective (and it only really pertained to this match). The Virginia fans were all over Garrapiz and he was shouting right back at them. I actually think, though, that it helped Garrapiz concentrate better. At one point, the referee was going to throw a UVa fan out (not sure what he did), but after someone mentioned how the Virginia team heard much worse last year, the ref (who was also in Athens) relented with just a warning.

As far as the cramping, I'm not sure if it was mentioned that it was 2 UVa Freshmen that cramped. Also, UCLA, I believe, had a Freshman cramp (against Texas) while up a set.
The Baylor-Cal girls match was 3-3 and decided by a Freshman girl Ormond (Baylor) cramping. Her hand started cramping and a couple of times she would drop the racket mid point. She also had leg cramps too. She never really had a chance in the 3rd. Ormond could play a few points and the cramps would come back.

All credit to Georgia for not having anyone cramp. I think part of it stems from having people who had "been there before." Their only Fr. was somebody in great shape who wants to grind all day.

I think it's hard for any player to completely prepare for a team competition with so much at stake in front of a fired up crowd. I think the first time through it's easy to be too fired up and maybe use up too much nervous energy without realizing it. When you throw in the mid-90s heat, that's a situation that the young folks had not faced before, even if you've won Jr. Wimbledon, US Open or whatever. Not saying that's exactly what happened, but I think it's interesting that hardly any of the experienced guys on either team had the same kind of trouble. Somdev never had an issue and Angelinos was full of energy right through the end of his 3 setter.

Also, in the finals versus Schnugg, Damico (Fr.) started having leg issues around 4-3 in the first set. Not that it would have mattered with the way Schnugg was striking the ball, but physically he was not 100%. That's probably one of the reasons his 1st round singles match was not that close

A random Jamie Hunt story, who I thought was extremely classy (along with all the Georgia folks) in how he handled the 3d set win over Singh. Hunt has a twin sister who attends UT. Of course, she was pulling for her brother & the Dawgs in the finals.

Not sure if the TV coverage got this. Georgia was pretty convincing at 2, 3 and 4 just as Texas was at Doubles and #6. It was clear that it would come down to #1 and #5. Kutrovsky broke to start the 3d. Travis got back on serve. Dimi then broke again to go up 3-2 (or maybe it was 4-3). Anyways, Travis played well breaking 2 consecutive times to close out the match. If Dimi could have held on who knows what would have happened. The #5 match was a dogfight between to similar players. Plenty of long baseline rallied & Texas' guy was a Sr. Both guys had broken serve early in the 3d. It was 2-2 when Georgia clinched.

One final comment. While coaches can help with in match comments, there are times when Coaches are better off, just backing away and not saying anything.
With the Tulsa courts set up in groups of twos, most teams had each of their 3 coaches on one pair of courts.

I thought it was interesting that for a good portion of the Finals (and some of the Semis), Diaz was actually roaming. You would look up and there he was standing next to you, watching from the stands just like anyone else.
He would not stay in one spot very long, but was more off the courts than on. While he certainly made some short brief comments, he pretty much let his players take care of business.

I know I've rambled for too long, but again, Congratulations Georgia