Virginia and UCLA Meet for Men's Division I Title; Stanford and Texas A&M Will Determine Women's Champion Tuesday
©Colette Lewis 2013--
Accepting the pressure of being the last match on is never easy, but two freshmen and a sophomore came up with the biggest victories of their careers Monday in the men's and women's semifinals of the NCAA Division I team championships at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Center at the University of Illinois.
The wind, which was over 20 mph when the men's semifinals began at 1 p.m., didn't make for pretty tennis, but UCLA sophomore Marcos Giron made the necessary adjustments, getting his only break of his match with Ohio State's big serving Peter Kobelt at 4-5 in the third set of the deciding match to put the Bruins in their first NCAA final since their 2005 championship.
"His serve wasn't really popping as big as it usually is due to the wind, but it was really tricky because there was so much action on the ball," said Giron, who posted a 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 victory. "But at the end of the second set you could see his shots were starting to have a little less pizazz, didn't have the same pop, and that's how I was able to take the second set tiebreaker."
Top seed UCLA had the cushion of the doubles point, with No. 5 Ohio State really struggling with the windy conditions, and losing at lines 1 and 2.
But the Buckeyes won three first sets in singles, and although UCLA took a 2-0 lead with Clay Thompson's 6-1, 6-1 win over Chris Diaz at No. 5, Ohio State got a boost from Devin McCarthy, who defeated Dennis Mkrtchian 6-1, 6-3 at line 4 to make it 2-1.
Ohio State's Blaz Rola got the second set that the Buckeyes needed against Dennis Novikov at No. 1, and almost simultaneously Ohio State's Connor Smith defeated Adrien Puget at line 3 6-2, 7-6(5), and UCLA's Karue Sell downed Constantin Christ 6-4, 7-6(5) at line 6 to give UCLA a 3-2 lead.
The match would be decided at courts 1 and 2, with Ohio State needing both points. Rola took a 4-2 lead in the third set against Novikov, and after a third overrule, Novikov was penalized a point, giving Rola a 5-2 lead. The UCLA sophomore smashed his racquet on his foot and was given a game penalty, quickly ending the match and turning all the attention to court 2, which may not have helped the Buckeyes.
"You hope that doesn't happen," said Ohio State coach Ty Tucker. "Because maybe Rola goes to serve it out, takes five more minutes, and Peter's not feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, maybe he gets that hold for 5-all. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts it'd be Christmas every day."
Despite not making a single first serve, Kobelt did have a 40-15 lead in the 4-5 game, but a forehand long by him and a forehand winner by Giron brought it back to deuce. Another stray forehand gave Giron a match point, and with the crowd gathered behind court two eerily quiet, the only sound was the clanking of cables as the wind rattled the NCAA flags against their poles.
Adding a bit of spice to the tense moment was the knowledge that Giron was playing with two overrules, and had been since 4-4 in the second set. Kobelt's first serve appeared a couple of inches long, and although he asked the umpire to confirm, there was no argument when he did. The second serve never made it over the net, as it didn't touch the strings, but went off the frame, high into the air, and while the UCLA players stormed Giron on the court, Kobelt, the hero in Ohio State's quarterfinal victory over USC on Saturday, crumpled to the ground, his 6-foot-7 frame shrinking into the court.
"In the third set, especially when it comes down to the last match, you don't know what's going to happen from a coaching standpoint," said UCLA coach Billy Martin. "You want some breaks, but you don't know nerve-wise what's going to happen. It seemed like [Kobelt] got a little tight, he didn't make one first serve out of eight that last game, and you hate to be in that position. But Marcos has been there for us, as I'm sure Peter has too, but Marcos held up under the pressure and thank goodness we're moving on."
Giron, who clinched the Bruins win over USC in a third-set tiebreaker, was elated he could help his team advance to the final.
"This is definitely not the first match I've clinched," said Giron. "So I've had experience in that situation, where everyone around you is cheering at you, and you learn to block it out. It's really a fantastic feeling coming through for yourself and your teammates."
The Cavaliers took the doubles point, but Georgia came out with great resolve in the singles, getting early breaks on three courts, and taking the first sets at lines 1 and 2, where Virginia is considered strongest. Ben Wagland made it 1-1 with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Jarmere Jenkins at No. 1, but Mitchell Frank gave Virginia a 2-1 lead a few minutes later with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Austin Smith at line 3. Julien Uriguen made it 3-1 with his 6-3, 7-5 victory over Marcos Nunez at line 6, and at line 5, Mac Styslinger was primed to make it a relatively straightforward 4-1 win when he had two match points against Garrett Brasseaux who was serving down 4-6, 4-5 15-40. But Brasseaux saved not only those two, but two more serving at 5-6, to reach a tiebreaker, which he proceeded to win after saving another match point, his fifth.
Meanwhile Georgia's Hernus Pieters had broke Ryan Shane at line 4 to force a third set, and although Virginia's Alex Domijan had won his second set against Nathan Pasha at line 2 and was leading 4-2 in the third, Pasha got the break back to make it 4-4. But Pasha was unable to hold after that break, double faulting three times in the game, including on the last two points, and Domijan served out the match to take a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
"It was really competitive," said Domijan. "It kind of looked like we were going to secure it pretty safely midway through the singles, but they fought back. They are helluva competitors, they played real well. They've been facing adversity and kind of banding together as a team. I was not expecting them to go away, I knew they were going to fight. I think we did a good job as a team of staying focused and finishing the job."
Domijan, a junior from Florida, has been to the finals now each of the three years he has been at Virginia, but hasn't yet held the winner's trophy.
"I'm looking forward to it," Domijan said. "UCLA is stacked, 1-6, we're stacked 1-6, so it's going to be a hell of a match. We didn't train as hard as we did to lose. Hopefully we just go out there and compete as hard as we can and get it done."
Virginia coach Brian Boland was impressed with the Georgia team, who lost their top player KU Singh when he abruptly left the team prior to the NCAA tournament.
"It was a great match," Boland said. "Credit to Georgia. They played a great match and fought incredibly hard. You get to this point and the matches are amazing. We'll be ready for tomorrow, we're excited to be in another national championship. Being here the last couple of years really will help us."
It was unlikely that the women's semifinals would match the tension the men produced, but they equaled and then exceeded it, with Stanford's Krista Hardebeck coming all the way back from a set and 5-1 down to deliver the No. 12 seeded Cardinal into the final with a 4-3 victory over arch rival and top seed Florida.
Hardebeck won five games in row against Florida junior Alex Cercone at line 3 to take a 6-5 lead in the second set, only to have Cercone finally hold, forcing a tiebreaker. Even with Stanford up 3-0 by virtue of the doubles point, a shockingly brief 6-0, 6-1 win by Nicole Gibbs over Lauren Embree at line 1, and Kristie Ahn's 6-1, 6-4 win over Sofie Oyen at line 2, a quick and easy victory was not anticipated by anyone. Florida's Brianna Morgan made it 3-1 with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Stacey Tan at line 4 and Caroline Hitimana gave Florida point number 2 with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-0 win over Natalie Dillon at 6. It looked as if Cercone would put the match onto the shoulders of Florida's Olivia Janowicz and Stanford's Ellen Tsay when she ran out to a 7-6(5), 5-1 lead, but she was unable to stop her downward spiral.
The match had hit the four hour mark when Janowicz got a late break to defeat Tsay 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, and Hardebeck and Cercone were at 2-2 in the third set. Although Cercone had never lost a singles match in her previous two NCAA appearances and was the hero of Florida's 4-3 win over Duke in the semifinals last year, she was struggling with cramps against Hardebeck, receiving frequent medical attention on changeovers.
"When I saw her getting medicals, and grabbing her leg, I thought, I am more physically into this than she is," said Hardebeck, who also clinched the Cardinal's 4-1 win over No. 4 seed Georgia on Sunday.
With Cercone electing to keep Hardebeck off balance with more slice and no pace, Cercone needed to be able to defend well and hit a lot of balls, but that strategy was thwarted by her physical problems.
"That's always a difficult game style to play," said Hardebeck. "I definitely had to tell myself--I like to hit winners--so I said to myself, calm down, you just need to work out the points and really focus."
"She's the kind of player always going for her shots, no matter where it is in the match, and that's sort of who we are as a team," said Stanford head coach Lele Forood. "The last two days she's gotten way down in matches and then been very clutch. I'm hoping tomorrow she doesn't get way down. But she's just been beautifully composed and put herself back in the matches."
The two played evenly until 3-3, when Hardebeck got the break, held at love, then broke Cercone for the victory to send Stanford into the finals in search of their 17th National Team championship.
Their opponents couldn't be more of a contrast, with No. 3 seed Texas A&M reaching the final for the first time in school history. In fact, every victory after the round of 16 was a first for the Aggies, who took down No. 7 seed and 2012 finalist UCLA 4-3, with first semester freshman Ines Deheza defeating Chanelle Van Nguyen 6-3, 6-7(9), 6-4 in the deciding match.
Like Hardebeck, Deheza had been on the verge of defeat, trailing 4-2 40-0 in the third set against Van Nguyen. But unlike Hardebeck, Deheza had also been on the verge of victory much earlier, holding a match point in the second set tiebreaker only to see Van Nguyen save it with a deft backhand volley.
UCLA took the doubles point, but Texas A&M dominated in early singles play taking five first sets. Cristina Sanchez-Quintantar put the Aggies on the board with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Robin Anderson at No. 1, with UCLA's Catherine Harrison answering back wit a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Anna Mamalat at No. 5 to making it 2-1. In the meantime, Kyle McPhillips had earned a third set with Cristina Stancu at 2, and she made it 3-1 UCLA with her 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 win.
Although A&M faced a 3-1 deficit, they had taken the first set in the three remaining matches, and Stefanie Hristov and Nazari Urbina kept those leads, with Hristov beating Courtney Dolehide at line 6 and Urbina defeating Pam Montez 6-4, 6-2 at line 3.
The final set between Deheza and Van Nguyen began with Deheza taking a 2-0 lead, but Van Nguyen stormed back to take the next four games and serving at 4-2, 40-0 was a point away from dominating a confused Deheza, who was having difficulty finding the court in those games. But she abandoned her defensive counterpunching at just the right moment, sensing that Van Nguyen was struggling physical. At 4-4, Van Nguyen was in great pain, and the cramping caused her to receive a point penalty that resulted in the break of serve. Deheza, serving for the match, took a 40-0 lead, but the combination of Van Nguyen's condition and her own nerves resulted in two errors on the first two match points.
"When she got cramps and I was 40-0 up and lost two match points, I was like, oh, god," said the 19-year-old from Bolivia. "She's hurt and it's difficult to keep playing because you know she's not going to run. I was trying to play safe and that was why I lost those two points. I looked at my coach and he told me, you've got to be aggressive here or you're going to lose. So that's what I tried to do and it really worked out."
A former ITF Top 10 junior, Deheza, who hit her share of moonballs in the match, went for a huge deep forehand close to the sideline, and Van Nguyen was unable to do any more than get a racquet on it.
"At 4-2 40-0 Chanelle was looking good," said UCLA head coach Stella Sampras Webster. "But I have to say Ines played really well, played a really good game to get it back to deuce there and win it. That really turned things around and it got tough for Chanelle. Ines took it. She played well, she stepped up."
"Ines is an awful good player," said Texas A&M head coach Howard Joffe, in just his second year leading the A&M program. "But you saw her go through a whole myriad of emotions. If I were Sigmund Freud I could guess what brought her back in the match, but she's truly a really strong kid and I have utmost respect for her."
As Sampras Webster had admitted on Sunday night, Forood said she knew little about the Texas A&M team.
"We know their top girl, because she's been around and had great results, but I don't think we know a lot of their team," Forood said. "So, we'll see. We'll figure it out."
The finals are scheduled for 1 p.m. for the men and 5 p.m. for the women, but rain is expected Tuesday.
No. 1 UCLA 4, No. 5 Ohio State 3
1 p.m. CT – South Courts
1. #12 Blaz Rola (OSU) def. #27 Dennis Novikov (UCLA) 5-7, 6-3, 6-2
2. #25 Marcos Giron (UCLA) def. #8 Peter Kobelt (OSU) 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4
3. #71 Connor Smith (OSU) def. #22 Adrien Puget (UCLA) 6-2, 7-6(5)
4. #73 Devin McCarthy (OSU) def. #75 Dennis Mkrtchian (UCLA) 6-1, 6-3
5. #119 Clay Thompson (UCLA) def. #104 Chris Diaz (OSU) 6-1, 6-1
6. Karue Sell (UCLA) def. Constantin Christ (OSU) 6-4, 7-6(5)
1. #42 Giron/Novikov (UCLA) def. #12 Kobelt/Smith (OSU) 8-4
2. #77 Puget/Sell (UCLA) def. #90 McCarthy/Van Engelen (OSU) 8-3
3. Brigham/Thompson (UCLA) vs. Rola/Callahan (OSU) 7-7*
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,1); Singles (5,4,6,3,1,2)
* = unfinished
No. 2 Virginia 4, No. 3 Georgia 1
1 p.m. CT – North Courts
1. #33 Ben Wagland (UGA) def. #3 Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) 7-5, 6-3
2. #2 Alex Domijan (UVA) def. #47 Nathan Pasha (UGA) 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
3. #39 Mitchell Frank (UVA) def. Austin Smith (UGA) 6-3, 6-3
4. #115 Hernus Pieters (UGA) vs. #69 Ryan Shane (UVA) 4-6, 7-5, 4-2*
5. Garrett Brasseaux (UGA) vs. #28 Mac Styslinger (UVA) 4-6, 7-6(7), 1-0*
6. Julen Uriguen (UVA) def. Marco Nunez (UGA) 6-3, 7-5
1. #5 Pieters/Wagland (UGA) vs. #4 Jenkins/Styslinger (UVA) 4-3*
2. #21 Domijan/Frank (UVA) def. #15 Pasha/Brasseaux (UGA) 8-3
3. #89 Shane/Uriguen (UVA) def. Nunez/Diaz (UGA) 8-4
Order of Finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (1,3,6,2)
* = unfinished
No. 3 Texas A&M 4, No. 7 UCLA 3
5 p.m. CT – North Courts
1. #4 Cristina Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) def. #3 Robin Anderson (UCLA) 6-1, 6-3
2. #20 Kyle McPhillips (UCLA) def. #68 Cristina Stancu (TAMU) 2-6, 6-0, 6-1
3. #52 Nazari Urbina (TAMU) def. Pamela Montez (UCLA) 6-4, 6-2
4. Ines Deheza (TAMU) def. Chanelle Van Nguyen (UCLA) 6-3, 6-7(9), 6-4
5. #93 Catherine Harrison (UCLA) def. Anna Mamalat (TAMU) 6-4, 6-2
6. Stefania Hristov (TAMU) def. Courtney Dolehide (UCLA) 7-6(5), 6-1
1. #25 Anderson/Morton (UCLA) def. #18 Stancu/Hristov (TAMU) 8-5
2. #38 Dolehide/Montez (UCLA) vs. #49 Wen/Sanchez-Quintanar (TAMU) 7-4*
3. Harrison/McPhillips (UCLA) def. Deheza/Deheza (TAMU) 9-7
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,3); Singles (1,5,2,6,3,4)
* = unfinished
No. 12 Stanford 4, No. 1 Florida 3
5 p.m. CT – South Courts
1. #13 Nicole Gibbs (STAN) def. #1 Lauren Embree (FLA) 6-0, 6-1
2. #25 Kristie Ahn (STAN) def. #17 Sofie Oyen (FLA) 6-1, 6-4
3. #14 Krista Hardebeck (STAN) def. #51 Alexandra Cercone (FLA) 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 6-3
4. #89 Brianna Morgan (FLA) def. #103 Stacey Tan (STAN) 6-1, 6-3
5. #123 Olivia Janowicz (FLA) def. #92 Ellen Tsay (STAN) 6-2, 3-6, 6-4
6. #116 Caroline Hitimana (FLA) def. Natalie Dillon (STAN) 1-6, 6-1, 6-0
1. #8 Ahn/Gibbs (STAN) def. #11 Embree/Oyen (FLA) 8-3
2. #28 Tan/Tsay (STAN) def. Cercone/Hitmana (FLA) 8-3
3. Collins/Morgan (FLA) vs. Dillon/Hardebeck (STAN) 6-3*
Order of Finish: Doubles (1,2); Singles (1,2,4,6,5,3)
* = unfinished