North Carolina Tops Fourth Seed Illinois 4-3; Defending Champion USC, Baylor and Virginia Advance to NCAA Men's Quarterfinals
©Colette Lewis 2015--
The drizzle and lightning that disrupted the 9 a.m. round of 16 matches in the men's NCAA Division I team tournament did not return for the six later matches, but the delays did force two matches to be sent indoors. No. 6 seed Texas A&M and No. 11 seed Ohio State were sent to SMU in Dallas, while No. 3 seed Virginia and Columbia played indoors at the Hawkins Tennis Center in Waco.
The Aggies 4-3 win over Ohio State was an exciting one, but unable to be in two places at once, I missed it, so please see the Texas A&M website for details of the match (box score is below).
Virginia looked to be in trouble against Columbia, but the Cavaliers shook off the challenge, with Collin Altamirano clinching the 4-0 victory with a 7-6(0), 6-0 win over Ashok Narayana at line 3. Virginia, who has now reached at least the quarterfinals 11 straight years will play Texas A&M on Saturday. For more on the match, see the Virginia website.
While Virginia and Columbia were meeting in the Hawkins Indoor Tennis Center, two other matches were outdoors at the Hurd Tennis Center. The first to finish was No. 5 TCU's 4-0 win over No. 12 Wake Forest. Because TCU had lost to Wake Forest 4-3 back in March, the match was expected to be closely contested, but TCU dominated the Demon Deacons.
"Wake Forest beat us last time without Noah (Rubin)," said Horned Frogs coach David Roditi. "It's amazing that you play the same team, the same six guys, different matchups....[the March match] was the first outdoor match for both of us. I think Tony(Bresky), would agree the quality of tennis wasn't the best, but trust me, when the seeding was going on, we did not want Wake Forest in the round of 16. We are just so ecstatic. Our guys are so hungry, and they're confident. When you're confident good things happen, and I'm just happy for our team to be able to experience what they're experiencing now."
No. 13 seed North Carolina also avenged an earlier season loss when they took down No. 4 seed Illinois 4-3.
The Tar Heels, who had lost by the same score on the road in January, took the doubles point and won five first sets, but the Illini fought back, forcing third sets in four of those matches. Illinois got on the board with Aleks Vukic's 6-3, 6-2 win over Robert Kelly at line 5, but Ebsen Hess-Olesen, who has played sparingly this season due to a back injury, made it 2-1 North Carolina with a 6-3, 6-2 line 6 win over Toshiki Matsuya, who was in the Illini lineup due to Ross Guignon's broken finger. Tim Kopinski of Illinois completed his comeback with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 decision over Brett Clark at line 3 making it 2-2, and Aron Hiltzik gave Illinois its first lead with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jack Murray at line 4.
The match was now in the hands of the No. 1 and No. 2 singles players, with North Carolina's Brayden Schnur taking a 4-2 third set lead over Farris Gosea at 1 and Ronnie Schneider taking a 4-2 third set lead over Jared Hiltzik at 2, with the Tar Heels needing to win both.
With Gosea serving, he was overruled for the third time on game point at 2-4, meaning Schnur would serve for the match with a 15-0 lead. At 40-0, the sophomore from Canada netted a forehand, then Gosea threaded a passing shot winner by him. But Schnur made good on his third match point, with a Gosea error ending it, and turned, with his finger to his lips to shush the loud Illinois crowd.
Meanwhile Schneider had reached match point at 40-0, and again, two match points were saved, but not the third. A giddy celebration ensued, with Schneider finally extricating himself from the dog pile to shake the hand of his longtime Midwest junior rival.
"Brayden and Ronnie, we've been riding those guys for two years now," said North Carolina coach Sam Paul. "They just clicked in and played great. Illinois has a great team, we knew that coming in, but I'm so proud of my team."
The win puts North Carolina into the quarterfinals for the second straight year, and Paul is looking forward to playing TCU in there, rather than the host school.
"We were happy not to play Baylor here this year," Paul said. "The last two times previously we played Georgia at Georgia, two times in the round of 16, so we were happy not to play the home team this year. But we've played a really tough schedule this year and they've grown a lot from that."
In the night matches, defending champion Southern California, seeded No. 7, had no trouble at all with No. 10 Duke, taking a quick 4-0 victory.
The Trojans took the doubles point and got wins from Yannick Hanfmann at line 1, Max de Vroome at line 5 and Roberto Quiroz at line 2 to seal the victory.
"I think we're very comfortable here," coach Peter Smith said of his team's mind frame as defending champions. "When we got out here, there was a certain comfort level. I felt in the second round, when we played San Diego State, we kicked into another gear that I hadn't seen in a while, and trust me, I'd been pushing for that gear. We're just comfortable."
Although Baylor was still playing on the Grandstand courts against South Florida, Smith was anticipating a rematch with the Bears.
"We're rooting for Baylor and hoping to play Baylor," said Smith. "It would be a wonderful experience. We played them at Indian Wells, it was a close match, 4-3, very close in doubles. I can't remember where we've played the host team, and I think that's a great challenge and one we're looking forward to."
Baylor did make that date on Saturday, but the No. 2 seeds were tested by South Florida, who had upset Virginia Tech in the regional final.
The Bulls missed their opportunity to secure the doubles point, losing breaks in both matches at 1 and 2 and falling in tiebreakers, after their No. 3 team had posted a routine win. Baylor got two quick wins from Diego Galeano at 4 and Felipe Rios at 6, but South Florida sandwiched an equally quick win from Oliver Pramming at line 3 in between. Sasha Gozun of South Florida fought back from a set down to take control of his match with Tony Lupieri at line 2, hitting winner after winner and making almost no unforced errors. Gozun took a 5-0 lead in the third set, but the match went unfinished when Julian Lenz got a late break in the second set, defeating Roberto Cid 6-3, 7-5 to give the Bears the 4-1 win. Mate Zsiga of Baylor had just earned a third set against Justin Roberts at line 5 when Lenz secured the win.
"There are no easy matches here," said Baylor coach Matt Knoll. "They're rough, it was a tough match."
Knoll is expecting another one on Saturday against USC. Asked if he considered his team the favorite, Knoll said, "absolutely not. They've won the national title five of six years and 25 times overall. That's the most of anybody. They've been completely dominant and we've got a big challenge. But if you get to the quarters of the NCAA, that's kind of what you're expecting."