©Colette Lewis 2009--
The comfort level for the Virginia Cavaliers will be higher than the snow banks piled in the parking lots around the Boar's Head Sports Club on Monday. Not only are they seeking their third consecutive men's Team Indoor championship, but they will be playing on their home courts against Tennessee, whose last appearance in the Indoor final was in 1993.
Virginia, the No. 2 seeds, earned their place in the final with a 4-1 victory over No. 3 Ohio State Sunday afternoon in front of nearly a thousand enthusiastic fans. Coach Brian Boland had dramatically rearranged his doubles teams as a result of last weekend's loss to Kentucky, their first during regular season since March of 2007, yet Virginia hadn't missed a beat, winning the doubles point against both Alabama and Georgia Friday and Saturday.
Ohio State's team of Matt Allare and Shuhei Uzawa drew first blood Sunday with an 8-5 win over Virginia's Lee Singer and Sanam Singh at No. 3, but Houston Barrick and Jarmere Jenkins held a 7-4 lead at the No. 2 position over Buckeyes Dino Marcan and Balazs Novak, so it looked as if it would be the No. 1 teams deciding it. On serve throughout, Virginia's Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz and Ohio State's Chase Buchanan and Justin Kronauge seemed headed for a tiebreaker, when at 6-7, Buchanan missed a volley at 30-40, and as quickly as that, Virginia took the match. Meanwhile, on court 2, Virginia was having a tough time serving it out at 7-5. The long game ended in a doubles point win for Virginia, when Buckeye freshman Marcan, angry at failing to convert a volley at deuce, threw his racquet, and was penalized a point, which was, of course, match point.
In the singles, Virginia came out strong, getting early breaks in several matches and a couple of big leads. Courtney had a two-break 3-0 lead over Uzawa at No. 4, as did Barrick over Novak at No. 5. Singh was also up 3-0 on Kronauge at No. 2, so the Buckeyes needed someone to mount a comeback, as only Marcan against Jenkins at No. 3 and Buchanan against Shabaz at No. 1 had enduring leads. At No. 6, Ohio State's Allare had a 2-0 lead over Singer, but Singer won six straight games to take the first set, while Courtney, Barrick and Singh kept their leads and won their first sets. Unlike their quarterfinal match, when Ohio State was down 3-0 to Florida, but in little danger of losing the match, the Buckeyes prospects were not good when Courtney and Barrick sandwiched wins around Marcan's victory at No. 3 to put Virginia up 3-1. Singh had a 5-3 lead over Kronauge, having won the first set 6-3, and he did not allow any drama. He broke Kronauge, with the final point an overrule by the chair umpire, who disagreed with Kronauge's out call, giving the Cavaliers a 4-1 victory.
"We came out and started really strong in singles, which I thought was a big key," Boland said. "We were able to get off to good starts on almost every court, and kept that momentum."
Boland admitted that the loss to Kentucky in Lexington last Saturday was the impetus for some changes.
"There were a number of factors that went on in the Kentucky match that I was very disappointed in," Boland said. "It was numerous issues, all of which are now moving forward in the right direction. It terms of my individual players, I'm very pleased with their response to what was at the time a difficult situation."
Tennessee has yet to taste defeat this year, and with a 4-1 victory over No. 8 Texas Sunday, the Volunteers have taken a step beyond their result in the Indoor last year, where they lost to Virginia 4-0 in the semifinals.
"We've learned from the experience of being in the semifinals last year," said Tennessee coach Sam Winterbotham. "Virginia was the returning defending champion and they felt confident going into that semifinal, and it was new territory for us. We came out a little nervous."
Against the Longhorns, there was no sign of similar nerves this year, even for freshmen Rhyne Williams and Tennys Sandgren. At No. 2 doubles, Williams and Boris Conkic got a quick lead over Ed Corrie and Kellen Damico. At No. 1 doubles, Tennesee's Davey Sandgren and JP Smith were knotted at 5 with Dimitar Kutrovsky and Josh Zavala and at No. 3, Matteo Fago and Tennys Sandgren were even with Jean Andersen and Daniel Whitehead, also at 5-5, so there was only a slight edge to Tennessee. Texas got the first victory with an 8-6 victory for Andersen and Whitehead but Sandgren and Smith got a late break to post a 8-6 win at No. 1. Conkic and Williams clung to their early lead and delivered the point to the Volunteers by an 8-5 score.
The singles tilted in favor of the Volunteers early, with Smith taking a quick first set from Kutrovsky at No. 1 and Fago taking the first from Vasko Mladenov at No. 6. Corrie had given the Longhorn faithful some hope with a 6-0 first set win over Conkic at No. 2, but when Williams topped Damico in the first set at No. 3 and Tennys Sandgren took his opener from Andersen, a Texas victory was unlikely.
Texas tied the score briefly, with Zavala earning a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Matt Brewer at No. 5, but in a matter of ten minutes, it was all over for the Longhorns. Williams completed a 6-2, 6-2 win over Damico, Smith posted a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Kutrovsky and Sandgren ended the match with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Andersen.
"I thought the young guys, Rhyne and Tennys, stepped up incredibly," said Winterbotham. "Tennys's performance, the turnaround from yesterday, was great. It takes a lot of confidence to come in here as a first semester freshman and play against the level these guys are asked to play against. I thought Tennys really dug into today and said, hey, I'm going to play my game. It was fantastic."
Tennessee's only other appearance in the Team Indoor final came in 1993, when current associate head coach Chris Woodruff was playing No. 1 for the team as a sophomore. The Volunteers, who lost 5-2 to UCLA that year, are hoping to end Virginia's championship run at two.
"The guys are confident," Winterbotham said. "They came into this tournament and they really felt like they could go all the way. And we're one step closer."
Boland also likes his team's chances, especially in front of what he called the "best home crowd in college tennis."
"We're playing really well across the board," Boland said. "Everybody seems to playing at a good level, and we hope for the best tomorrow. We've got a tough team in terms of playing Tennessee, so it's going to be a good match."
The championship match will begin at noon.
At the women's Team Indoor in Madison, Wisc., unseeded North Carolina has reached the final after upsetting the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils 4-3 in Sunday's semifinal. North Carolina will play No. 2 Northwestern, who is seeking its second consecutive Team Indoor championship. The Wildcats beat No. 3 seed Cal 4-3 Sunday.
For complete results, including the consolation matches, see the ITA men's and women's tournament sites.
Sunday, February 14, 2010