©Colette Lewis 2012--
The University of Southern California men will play for their fourth consecutive Division I National Team Championship Tuesday, and their opponent will be a familiar one. The top-seeded Trojans will face the third-seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers in a rematch of last year's final after both team completed 4-1 semifinal victories indoors late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. USC earned their place in the championship match with a victory over No. 4 UCLA, while Virginia beat No. 7 Pepperdine.
USC defeated UCLA for the third time in four meetings, with the first and last points of their 4-1 win both decided in tiebreakers. USC won the doubles point in a tiebreaker, with Raymond Sarmiento and Daniel Nguyen needing six match points before they would post a 9-8(6) win over Bruins Nick Meister and Dennis Novikov.
The singles matches were all in their first sets when the dark clouds began to gather, and when lightening was detected within three miles, play was suspended. It began to rain a few minutes later and the NCAA committee decided to move the matches indoors, to the 4-court Lindsey Hopkins facility a few steps from the outdoor courts. Less than an hour later, the matches resumed, with the No. 1 and No. 2 singles matches in each semifinal taking the courts.
USC quickly took a 3-0 lead, with Steve Johnson collecting his 65th consecutive collegiate victory with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Clay Thompson at 1, and Raymond Sarmiento taking down Nick Meister by the same score. Next on court were lines 3 and 4, with UCLA's Dennis Novikov playing Daniel Nguyen and Marcos Giron facing Emilio Gomez. Giron got UCLA on the board with a 6-3, 6-4 win, allowing the No. 5 court to go on, but if Nguyen could battle back from losing the first set to Novikov, that match wouldn't matter.
Nguyen was serving from behind in the third set, but he managed to force a tiebreaker and used his experience and an effective slice to take a 5-2 lead over the freshman, who entered school and began competing with the Bruins less than two months ago. Nguyen forced Novikov forward, and although Novikov did run down one drop shot and hit a winner to cut Nguyen's lead to 5-3, Novikov missed a backhand to give Nguyen a match point. After one shot in the rally Nguyen seemed to hesitate, thinking Novikov was going to call his shot out, but he readjusted, regained control of the point and hit a backhand winner to put his team in the final again.
The win kept Nguyen's perfect record in NCAA singles matches intact. He is now 15-0, while Johnson is 14-1, his only loss coming in his first Sweet 16 match as a freshman.
Nguyen wasn't made available for interviews after the match, with cramping given as the reason, but Smith knows how important his senior is to the team.
“The people got their money’s worth," said Smith. "That was a long evening and it was an amazing match. UCLA showed a lot of heart. We had two of our guys come out and play incredible tennis (Stevie and Ray). And we had one guy play incredibly clutch in (Daniel Nguyen). It was pretty special.”
UCLA's coach Billy Martin was hoping his team could find the same magic that led them to a 4-3 win over USC last month in Los Angeles, but weren't able to change the momentum, with only two courts to work with.
"We know they are a great team and we don’t expect to beat them on every occasion but we think we have a chance to battle with them," Martin said. "It’s disappointing, but I'm still really proud of the team and we had a great year, so we can’t be too disheartened."
Virginia has lost to USC in the last three NCAA tournaments--in the quarterfinals in 2009, the semifinals in 2010 and the finals last year.
"We've played them so many times, dating back to the NCAAs five, six years ago, so it's not just been the last few years," said Virginia coach Brian Boland. "It's been great. We have a lot of respect for their program and we're looking forward to playing them tomorrow."
Asked if it would be particularly sweet to end USC's winning streak at 3, after USC had eliminated them in the tournament the last five years, Boland had a ready answer.
"We're just trying to win our first national title," he said. "I'm not really focused on who we compete against. We have a great deal of respect for them and we'll be ready to go."
Courtney was also not made available for comment, but Boland spoke of how pleased he was that Courtney was healthy for his last shot at an NCAA title, after an injury kept him out of the Sweet 16 last year.
"I'm so happy for him," Boland said. "He's worked so hard, he's done everything right and he's been one of the best leaders Virginia's ever had. He's in the best shape of his life and loving the opportunity to compete in a Virginia uniform in this last go round, particularly after what happened last year, breaking his foot in the round of 32. It's a special moment and he's obviously looking forward tomorrow, as all the guys are."
Pepperdine coach Adam Steinberg didn't think the emotional 4-3 victory over Georgia in the quarterfinals Sunday night had an impact on his team's performance on Monday.
"The guys did not want the year to end," Steinberg said. "Our attitude before the match was like it always is, hitting balls this afternoon, I felt the energy from the team. They really wanted to play great tonight. We knew it was four matches in five days and we work on our conditioning all year for this moment this moment, so they were prepared for it, so no excuses. They have a great team and they were just too tough for us."
The men's final is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and will be streamed on ncaa.com, as will the women's final at 1 p.m.
There is a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms on Tuesday.
#1 Southern California 4, #4 UCLA 1
1. Steve Johnson (USC) def. Clay Thompson (UCLA) 6-1, 6-1
2. Ray Sarmiento (USC) def. Nick Meister (UCLA) 6-1, 6-1
3. Daniel Nguyen (USC) def. Dennis Novikov (UCLA) 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3)
4. Marcos Giron (UCLA) def. Emilio Gomez (USC) 6-3, 6-4
5. Yannick Hanfmann (USC) vs. Adrien Puget (UCLA) 3-6, 1-3, unfinished
6. Roberto Quiroz (USC) vs. Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA) 2-3, unfinished
1. Steve Johnson/Roberto Quiroz (USC) def. Alex Brigham/Adrien Puget (UCLA) 8-6
2. Daniel Nguyen/Ray Sarmiento (USC) def. Nick Meister/Dennis Novikov (UCLA) 9-8 (6)
3. Marcos Giron/Warren Hardie (UCLA) def. Emilio Gomez/Yannick Hanfmann (USC) 8-4
Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (1,2,4,3)
Virginia 4, Pepperdine 1
Singles competition (Order of finish: 2,1,3,4*)
1. Sebastian Fanselow (PEPP) def. Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
2. Alex Domijan (UVA) def. Finn Tearney (PEPP) 6-3, 3-6, 6-1
3. Mitchell Frank (UVA) def. Alex Llompart (PEPP) 7-6 (3), 6-2
4. Drew Courtney (UVA) def. Mousheg Hovhannisyan (PEPP) 7-6 (3), 6-2
5. Justin Shane (UVA) vs. Hugh Clarke (PEPP) 4-5, unfinished
6. Julen Uriguen (UVA) vs. Jenson Turner (PEPP) 6-2, 3-3, unfinished
Doubles competition (Order of finish: 2,3)
1. Jarmere Jenkins/Drew Courtney (UVA) def. Finn Tearney/Alex Llompart (PEPP) 8-7, unfinished
2. Justin Shane/Julen Uriguen (UVA) def. Sebastian Fanselow/Jenson Turner (PEPP) 8-4
3. Alex Domijan/Mitchell Frank (UVA) def. Hugh Clarke/David Sofaer (PEPP) 8-4