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Monday, February 15, 2010

Virginia Claims Third Straight Men's Team Indoor Championship

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Charlottesville, VA--

The city of Charlottesville is known for being the home of three presidents: James Madison, James Monroe and Thomas Jefferson. It is now also the home of three consecutive ITA Men's Indoor championships, after the University of Virginia men's team defeated their counterparts from the University of Tennessee 4-1 at the Boyd Tinsley Courts at the Boar's Head Sports Club Monday afternoon.

The large Presidents Day crowd didn't have much to cheer about during the opening doubles matches, with Tennessee's No. 1 team of Davey Sandgren and JP Smith dominating Virginia's Drew Courtney and Michael Shabaz, getting an early break and then another for a 5-1 lead. Things were no better for the Cavaliers on court 2, where Houston Barrick and Jarmere Jenkins were down a break against Tennessee's Boris Conkic and Rhyne Williams after the first game, and eventually fell behind 6-2. With those leads, the Volunteers had no reason to be concerned that their team of Matteo Fago and Tennys Sandgren were trailing on court 3 against Virginia's Sanam Singh and Lee Singer. It didn't take long for Tennessee to put Virginia out of their doubles misery with an 8-1 win by Sandgren and Smith and an 8-2 victory by Conkic and Williams.

Virginia head coach Brian Boland was not pleased with his team's performance, and used the break prior to singles to let them know it.

"I felt our teams came out flat and let us down, with the exception of 3," Boland said. "We can certainly compete harder than that and make better decisions on the courts. We had a five to seven minute talk in the locker room after the doubles point, and I was pretty firm as to how disappointed I was, that this was unacceptable. If they were going to find a way to be successful today they needed to show a great deal of resilience and toughness."

Courtney was one of the players who got the message.

"We just took it as one point out of seven," said the sophomore from Clifton, Va. "Coach said the tougher team will win today and he stressed that and stressed that we should come out tougher than them, and it proved itself today."

Tennessee had altered the singles lineup it had used throughout the weekend, removing Matt Brewer from the No. 5 position. That moved Fago up to the No. 5 position, with Davey Sandgren moving into Fago's previous spot at No. 6. It didn't provide the Volunteers with the hoped for boost however, as Barrick got an early lead on Fago, Singer did the same against Davey Sandgren and Jenkins took a 3-1 lead on Williams at the No. 3 position. Only Conkic was up for the Volunteers, taking an early break from Singh at No. 2, with Shabaz and Smith at No. 1 and Tennys Sandgren and Courtney at No. 4 all even.

Shabaz was particularly impressive against the No. 2-ranked Smith, who had beaten him at the All-American in October. With an excellent return game at 4-4, Shabaz, ranked third nationally, got the only break of the set on a Smith double fault and proceeded to serve it out. By that time, Barrick had won the opening set against Fago, and a short time later both Singer and Courtney claimed their first sets.

Tennessee was going to need a lift from someone and they got it from freshman Williams, who won the final five games of the opening set against Jenkins to take it 7-5. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, Conkic couldn't hold off Singh, who won the final four games to take the first set, giving Virginia five first sets.

When Shabaz took a 2-0 lead in second set, and Singh a 3-0, two-break lead, it looked very bleak for the Volunteers, even though the other second sets were very close. But they fought back at the top, with Smith getting it back to 2-2 and Conkic winning four straight games.

Senior captain Barrick completed his 6-2, 6-4 win over Fago to counter the loss of the doubles point and Singer, who is ranked 28th nationally, downed Davey Sandgren 6-2, 7-5 to give the Cavaliers their first lead.

The 700 to 800 Virginia fans were sensing victory, and the remaining four courts each had its own whistling and applauding contingent erupting at every point won by the Cavaliers.

A key game on court 1 attracted the most support, as Smith, serving at 3-3 in the second set, fought off break point after break point until Shabaz finally secured the break.

"We played a long, long game, and I knew that game was pivotal," said Shabaz, a junior from Fairfax, Va. "It was a huge game, because if I had lost that game, it was a different kind of match. And if I won it, I was serving just good enough to get through the match."

Shabaz, who put forehand after forehand deep in the corners, making Smith play defense, not offense, served out his 6-4, 6-4 victory at love, and Virginia had a 3-1 lead. Courtney had taken an early break from Sandgren in the third set of their match, while Jenkins had earned a split against Williams. With Singh and Conkic at 5-5 in the second set, it looked as if Virginia's last point could come there, but when Conkic held and broke, all attention was turned to court 4.

Courtney, who had clinched Virginia's 4-1 win over Georgia at last year's Team Indoor final in Chicago, was in position to do the honors again. At 2-5 Sandgren held, but he needed to break the big serving right-hander, which he had only done once in the match. Buoyed by the enveloping noise, Courtney didn't allow it, with Sandgren getting only one return in play in the final game. When the 40-0 serve didn't come back, Courtney fell to the ground and was mobbed by his teammates, delaying the post-match handshake.

"Last year was a lot of fun, but this one tops it for sure," said Courtney, a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 winner. "To have so many fans, so many friends and family around to fire us up and push us through was so special."

For Tennessee, who hadn't reached a Team Indoor final since 1993, it was a disappointing loss, and head coach Sam Winterbotham also gave Virginia and its home crowd credit for that.

"They certainly had the necessary determination to try and get four (wins) and we didn't respond well enough," said Winterbotham. "We allowed the momentum to really swing in their favor, and to their credit, the crowd jumped all over that momentum, the players jumped all over that momentum and they steamrolled us. There was no doubt they were the better team today."

With its third consecutive Team Indoor title, Virginia moves into an elite group. The only other schools to claim more than two titles since the competition began in 1973 are Stanford, with 12 and UCLA, with 7.

For complete results of the Men's Team Indoor Championships, see the ITA website.

At the Women's Team Indoor in Madison, Wisc., No. 2 seed Northwestern also successfully defended its title, defeating unseeded North Carolina 4-2. For complete results, visit the ITA website.