©Colette Lewis 2012--
The circumstances surrounding the men's final were far from ideal, but the hundreds of fans who stuck around until 12:55 a.m. Wednesday morning will never forget how the University of Southern California Trojans won their fourth straight NCAA men's tennis championship.
When freshman Yannick Hanfmann won a third set tiebreaker from the University of Virginia's Justin Shane at No. 5 singles, giving top seed USC a 4-2 victory, the hundreds of fans packed into the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Tennis Center were emotionally exhausted from the twists and turns the match took during its final hours.
Rain arrived just as the doubles point was completed around 6 p.m., with Virginia dealing USC only its second loss of a doubles point all season, with wins at 2 and 3 doubles. There was a two-hour delay before the decision was made to move the singles matches indoors, and because there are only four courts, the prospect of a long night loomed.
With the Virginia fans outnumbering those from USC by a substantial margin, sitting in and standing behind the three-tiered aluminum bleachers and making their loyalties known on every point, the four-ring circus began at 8:30 p.m.
Without electronic scoreboards and with the deafening noise making chair umpire score calling inaudible, it was impossible to monitor what was happening on each court, with old-fashioned scoreboards manually changed by umpires the only source of information.
Virginia's fans began to sense the possibility that this would finally be their year when freshman Mitchell Frank took a big lead on USC's Daniel Nguyen at No. 3 singles. The senior Nguyen, who had clinched the last two USC titles, had not lost an NCAA singles match in his career, going 15-0, and earning the reputation as Mr. Clutch.
At No. 2 singles, USC's Raymond Sarmiento and Virginia's Alex Domijan where locked in an entertaining battle with Sarmiento showing off some deft hands while coping with the big ground strokes of the Cavalier sophomore.
Sarmiento got a late break in the first set to take it 6-4, and by that time Emilio Gomez had the first set over Drew Courtney at 4 and Steve Johnson had taken the first set from Jarmere Jenkins at 1.
Frank was leading Nguyen 6-3, 5-1 and had nine match points to put Virginia up 2-0, but before Frank could finally convert his tenth match point, Johnson had beaten Jenkins 6-3, 6-2 and Gomez had made it 2-1 USC with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Courtney.
With the No. 5 and No. 6 singles able to take the courts, Sarmiento was serving up 5-3, and he served for the match at 5-4. With the players trading winners in the high-quality match, Domijan got his chance to break back and took it, hitting a backhand return winner to make it 5-5. He was broken in the next game however, and Sarmiento had a second chance to serve for the match. Down 15-30, Sarmiento hitting a spinning, diving volley to make it 30-30 and earned a match point when Domijan made a rare error, on the backhand side. Sarmiento gave USC the 3-2 lead they would hold for a very long time when he hit a perfectly executed drop volley on match point, which the 6-foot-7 Domijan sprinted desperately for but couldn't reach, and Sarmiento had the 6-4, 7-5 win.
Virginia's Julien Uriguen had taken the first set from Roberto Quiroz at 6, while Hanfmann and Shane were at 4-4 in their opening set at 5. Hanfmann broke and held to give USC that first set, and the Trojans were one set from their fourth straight title.
Shane got an early break in the second set, and went on to win it 6-2, while Quiroz was staying with Uriguen in their second set, which reached a tiebreaker. If Uriguen could win it, all the attention would be on Shane and Hanfmann, but he was beginning to show signs of cramping and Quiroz, a freshman, stepped up his game to take the tiebreaker 7-3, forcing a third set.
Despite his medical issues, which resulted in a trainer administering to him at every changeover, Uriguen took a 3-0 lead in the final set. Shane and Hanfmann, similar players in body type and game style, were at 4-4 in the third when Shane got the break to serve for the match. He missed two forehands wide however, to go down 0-30, and just missed a backhand to give Hanfmann two break points. Shane forced an error on the next point, but netted a forehand at 30-40 to make it 5-5, and Hanfmann quickly held for 6-5. Shane continued to play boldly serving at 5-6 and used a good serve and a forehand winner to get to the tiebreaker.
On 6, Quiroz had broken Uriguen serving at 4-2 to get back on serve in the third as Hanfmann and Shane began their tiebreaker. It was 3-3 at the change of ends, but Shane netted a backhand to trail 4-3 and missed a forehand wide for 5-3. Hanfmann then came up with an ace to make it 6-3, with two serves to come for Shane. Shane missed his first, made his second, but after a tense rally, the sophomore missed a forehand, doubling over in disappointment as the USC celebration began and the Trojan pep band launched into its exuberant rendition of the school's fight song.
"I knew I had this ability, that I could do that," said Hanfmann, who also clinched a 4-3 victory for USC in the finals of the ITA National Indoors three months ago. "But it's not just me, but the whole team was competing, playing their asses off. Just seeing everybody playing so hard, it was just an inspiration for me. And I think I was lucky for it to finish that way."
"For a freshman to do that is remarkable," said USC coach Peter Smith, who equals Stanford's Dick Gould's 1995-1998 streak with his fourth consecutive title. "It was tough for us, the last two matches were going to be freshmen against a sophomore and a junior, but the tradition lives on, it's unbelievable."
It was mission accomplished for Johnson and Nguyen, who joined Stanford's Paul Goldstein and Charles Hoeveler as the only players to win four consecutive NCAA team championships since the championship format was changed in 1977.
"I guess mission accomplished is the best way to put it," said Johnson, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "I came back to win four, and I don't think there was ever a doubt in my mind that I was going to come back. But to do it with this group of guys, it's such a special group, and to be able to mentor these young freshmen...these guys are going to carry on the legacy in the next few years and I'm excited to watch them grow."
"Just to finish my career with these guys, we're just so close to each other," said Nguyen. "It's definitely a very special moment."
For Virginia's Brian Boland, whose team lost 4-3 to USC in last year's final, it was a disappointing, but not discouraging loss.
"These guys continue to get back here, to put themselves in position to become champions," Boland said. "And in my mind they're champions regardless of winning or losing this match. It's unfortunate we came up short, because I think we did things the right way and gave ourselves a chance to finish at the end with a national championship. But we fell short, and we'll bounce back."
The returning members of the USC team, sporting their National Championship T-shirts as they stood behind the makeshift media table and listened to Smith, Johnson and Nguyen talk about their fourth straight title, knew they had also been a part of something special.
"The standard was different for this team," said Smith. "Plain and simple. The only standard was winning it, and we knew it. But boy, it feels so good."
MEN: #1 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (33-1) def. #3 VIRGINIA (29-2), 4-2
Head Coaches: Peter Smith (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) and Brian Boland (VIRGINIA)
Doubles (Order of finish: 2,3)
1. #2 Steve Johnson/Roberto Quiroz (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) vs. #5 Drew Courtney/Jarmere Jenkins (VIRGINIA), 6-5, unfinished
2. Alex Domijan/Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA) def. Emilio Gomez/Yannick Hanfmann (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 8-5
3. Julen Uriguen/Justin Shane (VIRGINIA) def. #35 Daniel Nguyen/Ray Sarmiento (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 8-4
Singles (Order of finish: 1,4,3,2,5*)
1. #1 Steve Johnson (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #4 Jarmere Jenkins (VIRGINIA), 6-3, 6-2
2. #25 Ray Sarmiento (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #39 Alex Domijan (VIRGINIA), 6-4, 7-5
3. #2 Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA) def. #21 Daniel Nguyen (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA), 6-3, 6-1
4. #57 Emilio Gomez (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. Drew Courtney (VIRGINIA), 6-4, 6-2
5. #51 Yannick Hanfmann (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) def. #82 Justin Shane (VIRGINIA), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(4)
6. Roberto Quiroz (SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA) vs. Julen Uriguen (VIRGINIA), 2-6, 6-7(3), 3-4, unfinished