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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fifteen Players Earn All-American Honors Thursday at NCAAs; Top Seed Johnson Rolls On

©Colette Lewis 2011--
Stanford, CA--

A chance to earn one of college tennis's most coveted titles was on the line Thursday during the second round of the NCAA Division I Individual Championships. One of the criteria for being named an All-American couldn't be simpler: reach the round of 16 at the individual tournament. Those seeded had already assured themselves of the honor, but an additional 15 men and women earned a place in their program's history with victories Thursday.

The University of Virginia's Lindsey Hardenbergh, became the first woman to earn All-American honors in the school's history when she defeated Connie Hsu of the University of Pennsylvania 6-4, 6-4. Hardenbergh, a junior from Fairfax, Virginia, trailed 4-1 in the opening set before rallying for the win on another brisk and breezy day at the Taube Family Tennis Center.

Although Hardenbergh's match was a close one, it didn't compare to Mississippi's Marcel Thiemann's 1-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) win over No. 7 seed Eric Quigley of Kentucky. Thiemann, a junior from Germany, saved four match points to eliminate Quigley from the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.

Quigley had three match points serving at 5-3 in the third set, but Thiemann denied them all. Serving to stay in the match, Thiemann faced a fourth match point, but a Quigley backhand sailed long, and Thiemann held. In the deciding tiebreaker, the pair of SEC rivals exchanged mini-breaks early, then held serve the rest of the way. With Quigley serving at 5-6, he netted his first serve, then tried a surprise serve and volley on the second, but missed the volley to give Thiemann the win on his first match point.

"He's an amazing player,” said Thiemann, who earned All-American status for the second time with the victory. “He would have deserved it just as much to win."

University of Texas sophomore Aeriel Ellis faced a difficult task in her quest for All-American status after dropping the first set to No. 4 seed Denise Dy of the University of Washington, but the Californian, ranked 21st, went on to post a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 upset.

The other major surprise in the women’s draw was the elimination of No. 2 seed Maria Sanchez of Southern California. Sanchez was beaten by Mari Andersson of Cal-Berkeley 6-2, 6-3.

Men's top seed Steve Johnson posted his 31st consecutive win Thursday, defeating Pac-10 rival Daniel Kosakowski of UCLA 6-2, 6-1. It was his fourth victory over the Bruin freshman this year.

“I feel like I've played Daniel and Bradley (Klahn of Stanford) practically every weekend this year,” said Johnson, the team tournament's Most Outstanding Player. “It's nine times since January, a fourth of my matches. But it happens in the Pac-10. Those guys are both great players and they play 1 for their universities, so I'm glad I played some good tennis today and got off the court.”

Trojan freshman Raymond Sarmiento earned his All-American designation with a 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over crosstown rival Amit Inbar of UCLA, but teammate Daniel Nguyen, who clinched Southern California's 4-3 win over Virginia in the team championship fell short of that honor.

Nguyen bounced back to take the second set from Illinois's Dennis Nevolo, a 9 seed, but a shoulder strain prohibited him from finishing the nearly three-hour match, which ended with a 6-4, 5-7, 5-2 ret. scoreline.

On the court during the match was USC associate head coach George Husack, who recruited Nevolo for Illinois when he was an assistant there three years ago.

“It was uncomfortable at the beginning because of the relationship I have with Dennis and with the family,” said Husack. “When he came on his recruiting trip, we just kind of bonded and I think we always had a good relationship.”

As for any scouting secrets he might have learned when coaching Nevolo as a freshman, Husack denied they would be of much value.

“They have similar game styles,” Husack said. “At this point, you know all the players, so sure, you're going to say try this side, try that side. At the beginning we said we're going to work his forehand a little bit, but Dennis was ripping forehands. All the scouting notes at this point go out the window.”

Nevolo did see a change in Nguyen's tactics from the first set to the second however.

“It was tough, because I thought he drastically changed from the first to the second sets,” Nevolo said. “I thought he was rolling more in the first, which caught me off guard.”

Nguyen started hitting flatter and taking the ball earlier in the second set, his usual game style, and Nevolo had to adjust.

“It definitely took me some time to figure out,” Nevolo said. “I was unsure of the patterns I wanted to run, the type of serves I wanted to play. But I got a little groove on it and realized when he does that, I can't play defensive. He likes to play offense, so once I started to play more aggressive as he played more aggressive, it kind of evened out.”

As for seeing his former coach on the sideline throughout the match, Nevolo could joke about it, knowing Husack was within earshot.

“George was trash talking the entire match, he's a bad man,” Nevolo said. “No, actually George was great. He applauded me on some nice shots. It's too bad he's not at Illinois anymore. I'd love to have him around. But I'm sure he's happy with a couple of rings now.”

The complete list of players who earned All-American honors with wins today:

Evan King, Michigan
Jose Hernandez, North Carolina
Sebastian Fanselow, Pepperdine
Marcel Thiemann, Ole Miss
Tennys Sandgren, Tennessee
Raymond Sarmiento, USC
Lauren Embree, Florida
Nicole Gibbs, Stanford
Aeriel Ellis, Texas
Mari Andersson, Cal-Berkeley
Chelsey Gullickson, Georgia
Lindsey Hardenbergh, Virginia
Stacey Tan, Stanford
Nina Secerbegovic, Baylor
Leslie Hureau, Indiana

For draws and results, see gostanford.com


Austin said...

Quigley had him, just couldn't pull the final trigger. I thought he should have served and volleyed on all the match points as well.

Thats weak sauce Nyguen retired down 5-2 in the third. Not something I would expect from him.

Austin said...

Also, are they ever going to revamp this All-American process? I find it absurb the 55th ranked player can be an AA just because they win two matches in a row. Let's say they are due to play a top seed who just played in the team finals, that person withdraws or is incredibly tired, then second round they get someone who is injured from a previous match, they retire in the second set, now this person is an All-American? I just cant stand that process. We should not have this many AA's.

Minimum All-Americans:

Singles: 16
Doubles: 16

Maximum All-Americans:

Singles: 32
Doubles: 32

The lowest number of total All-Americans could be 16 if every person who made it in singles also made it in doubles with a partner who also made it in singles. The highest number could be 64 players. Split the difference and we would have 40 AA's, that is ridiculous.

My new proposal:

Top5 players in final singles ranking
Top5 teams in final doubles rankings
Semifinalists in NCAA's
Champion from any of the fall national tournaments

Doesn't this make it a more exclusive club and a more deserving honor?

When I think of the best players in college tennis from 2011, Ray Sarmiento and Marcel Thiemann do not come to mind. Using this methodology we are saying Sarmiento is better than Poldma and Nyguen on his own team, yet played behind both of them all season. Neither Poldma nor Nyguen reached All-American status. Marcel Thiemann went 10-10 during dual match play this season at #1, he is now an All-American.

Congrats to everyone who is now an All-American, and a BIG congrats to JP Smith who became the second player in history to reach AA status all four years in both singles and doubles. However, it is such an archaic process that makes little sense and needs to be adjusted.

Colette Lewis said...

I agree there's too many now, but I think your proposed cuts are too drastic.

I would go quarterfinals NCAA, top 10 final rankings (by the way, it's top 20 now, so there are additional A-As possible from the 64 you mention), fall tourney champions (unlikely they wouldn't be top 10, but just in case). But who will lobby to change it? Not the coaches, who want to say they had as many A-As as possible.

I do think the current system offers an opportunity for excellent young players (e.g. Sarmiento, Sandgren) who play low in their teams' lineups, to get individual recognition early in their college careers.