Top Seed Oklahoma Meets Virginia for Men's D-I Title; Defending Champion UCLA Takes on Vanderbilt for Women's Championship
©Colette Lewis 2015--
The top-seeded Oklahoma men and women's defending champions UCLA earned another shot at an NCAA team title with victories in Monday's semifinals at the Hurd Tennis Center on the campus of Baylor University. Oklahoma will take on No. 3 seed Virginia at 1 p.m. Tuesday, with UCLA facing No. 4 seed Vanderbilt at 5 p.m.
Heated would be the word for the two men’s semifinals, with mid afternoon temperatures in the upper 80s and the heat index in the mid 90s—the first really uncomfortable day of the championships. With both matches extending for four hours, Oklahoma advanced to its second straight final with a contentious 4-3 win over No. 5 seed TCU, while Virginia surged past No. 2 seed Baylor 4-2.
Mitchell Frank and freshman Collin Altamirano gave the Cavaliers their final two points, simultaneously winning match points in third sets to deflate the hundreds of fans in green and gold who were hoping for a Baylor comeback.
Baylor put the crowd in a positive frame of mind by taking the doubles point in a tiebreaker at line 3, with the Bears’ Vince Schneider winning the only point that went to the server at 6-5. He and Felipe Rios defeated Altamirano and JC Aragone after Altamirano had served for the match at 7-6. Baylor’s Julian Lenz and Diego Galeano had won 8-4 at line 1 and Virginia’s Thai Kwiatkowski and Mac Styslinger had won 8-6 at line 2.
Virginia’s large traveling fan base, accustomed to being able to book their airline tickets early, with their team reaching the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year, had their spirits lifted early by junior Ryan Shane’s 6-3, 6-4 win over Julian Lenz, the nation’s second-ranked player.
“I played one of the better matches I’ve played in a while,” said Shane, who lost to Lenz in Baylor’s 5-2 win in Waco in March. “He played really well too, but things kind of went in my favor, and that point, right off the bat, helped us move forward in winning the match.”
Frank had breezed by Tony Lupieri 6-0 in the opening set at line 2, but when first sets were all completed, Baylor had three and Virginia had three, meaning the Cavaliers had to win a three-setter to advance to their fourth final in five years. It was Baylor earning the first split however, with Lupieri taking the second set from Frank 6-2. With the late afternoon skies darkening and predicted thunderstorms looming, Virginia took a 2-1 lead when JC Aragone, who was down 4-1 in the second set, beat Felipe Rios 6-3, 7-5 at line 6.
Kwiatkowski had earned a split for Virginia by that time in his match with Galeano at 4, with Altamirano also getting to a third set against Max Tchoutakian. Virginia’s Alexander Ritschard was serving to take Mate Zsiga into a third, but Lupieri had taken a 3-1 lead over Frank in the third set at 2.
Just as Ritschard forced a third set, Lupieri lost his break, but Kwiatkowski was having cramping issues trailing 4-2 in the third. He finished, but without much energy, and Galeano tied the score at 2 with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 win.
Altamirano and Zsiga had early breaks in their third sets, with Frank and Lupieri at 4-4 in the third. Lupieri saved three break points serving at 4-all, but on the fourth netted a forehand, giving Frank a chance to serve for the match and a 3-2 Virginia lead.
Frank got to match point at 40-30, with backhand winners and gutsy drop shots, but Lupieri rallied to break back for 5-5, sending the Baylor crowd into a spasm of BU chants. They didn’t last long however, as Lupieri hit a tight-looking forehand into the net at 15-40 to give Frank a second chance to serve for the match.
Ritschard had won four straight games at 6 to come back from 2-0 down, but it was Altamirano who had taken control of his match with Tchoutakian, as Frank tried to close out Lupieri. Altamirano led 5-1, but Tchoutakian won three straight games, leaving Altamirano one final chance to finish, serving at 5-4. As Frank came from 15-30 down with a good volley and a forehand forcing an error to get to match point, Altamirano was also at match point. Frank again used his drop shot and softly tapped Lupieri’s reply into the open court, while Altamirano finished off Tchoutakian without any further drama, with quiet descending over the Hurd Tennis Center, with only the shouts of the Virginia fans breaking the silence.
“I don’t know anyone outside our locker room who gave him a chance to win that match,” Baylor coach Matt Knoll said of Lupieri. “But we felt like we had a good plan and if we could execute the plan we’d have a real chance. Tony was executing the plan to a certain extent, but in the key moments he got a little over excited and kind of deviated. It’s easy to fall back into what you’re comfortable doing. It sounds easy when I sit up here and say do the plan, but [Frank] is a great player and posed some real challenges.”
“That was really exciting,” Virginia coach Brian Boland said. “It was great to be a part of a match like that in college tennis. I know there’s always questions about whether college tennis is exciting. There was great excitement and drama out there today. Credit to Baylor, they had an unbelievable season, they’re a great team and I’m sure it’s hard for them, hosting the event, to go down, but they left it all on the court.”
After playing four hours in the stifling heat and humidity, Virginia could have been facing Tuesday’s final at a disadvantage, but top seed Oklahoma’s win over TCU was almost exactly as long to the minute, with OU’s Axel Alvarez defeating Nick Chappell 7-5, 7-6(5) at line 1 to
At 5-4 in the tiebreaker, a dispute arose over whether Alvarez had called a ball in and then changed his call to out, as some spectators had observed. The chair umpire was prepared to go with Alvarez's call, and the referee was called to court, but as a matter of fact, not interpretation, the out call stood. Chappell, then receiving at 5-5, called a serve out, but was overruled by the chair umpire, giving Alvarez a match point. Chappell had a chance to recover from those two difficult points, but missed a volley into the open court to give Alvarez the win.
"It's nothing that's never happened before," said TCU coach David Roditi. "Nick thought the serve was out, and the referee thought the serve was in, so it was an overrule....On the point before, we felt like Axel might have called it in first and there was confusion as to whether he called it in first and changed his call or not. The referee (chair umpire) didn't see him call it in; I personally didn't see him call it anything, in or out, I was blocked. We'll never know, that stuff happens in every sport, and I certainly don't want it to take away from the unbelievable season both teams have had, what a great season TCU has had, and that's just sports. I hope, I hope, that Axel called it out."
The match began with a true rarity: all three doubles courts in tiebreakers at the same time. Oklahoma took it with Alvarez and Jose Salazar winning the last of the three tiebreakers 8-7(5) over Guillermo Nunez and Hudson Blake at line 3.
In singles two points were posted quickly, with Spencer Papa of Oklahoma defeating Aranu Dachs 6-1, 6-4 to make it 2-0, but Cameron Norrie got TCU on the board with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Dane Webb at line 3. The Horned Frogs tied it up with Facundo Lugones taking out Alex Ghilea 6-1, 6-4 at line 4, but the Sooners appeared to be in control with both Alvarez and Andrew Harris, at line 2, up a set, and Florin Bragusi serving for the match against Will Stein at 6-3, 5-2.
TCU's Nunez took Harris to a third set and Stein forced a tiebreaker, but Bragusi managed to post a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory to make it 3-2. With Harris struggling with cramps, Nunez breezed through the third set to tie it up, winning 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0 and turning the attention to Court 1, where Alvarez had already missed a chance to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second.
"Just to battle through it and find a way to win, our guys had a lot of heart," said Oklahoma coach John Roddick, who would not comment on the tiebreaker controversy or words he exchanged with David Roditi shortly after the completion of the match, when a TCU fan heckled him. "You saw the match and how tough it was physically. It's the first really hot day the players have seen and that's kind of what happens. I'm sure there's bodies who aren't moving too quick coming out of that match too. I don't know for a fact, but I would bet my life on it."
Boland expressed relief that Oklahoma had played just as long under the same difficult conditions.
"I figured it might work a little bit to our disadvantage if they got off the court in two and a half hours, like we did against A&M," Boland said. "But it seems like both teams had tough matches today, so we'll just go out there and leave it all on the court tomorrow."
Roditi said he thought Virginia's depth could be a factor given the quick turnaround for Tuesday's 1 p.m. final.
"I think Virginia is a really tough team and they have so many players," Roditi said. "If someone is physically broken down, they have three guys I would have given a full scholarship to on the bench. In this conditions, that's a huge advantage."
After all the tension and excitement in the men's semifinals, the two women's matches were a bit anticlimactic, although a lengthy lightning delay and the constant threat of thunderstorms, which surrounded the city but never materialized at the tennis courts, added tremendous tension to Vanderbilt's 4-0 win over top seed Southern California and UCLA's 4-1 victory over No. 6 Georgia.
Vanderbilt managed to win the doubles point from top seed USC with wins at lines 1 and 2, and after a more than one hour delay, returned to the courts with their momentum intact.
The Commodores won four first sets on courts 1 through 4, with Courtney Colton giving Vanderbilt a quick second point with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Madison Westby at line 4, and Frances Altick following with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Zoe Scandalis at line 3. The fourth point proved to be more elusive however, with USC's Sabrina Santamaria forcing Sydney Campbell to a third set at line 1, and Giuliana Olmos taking Vanderbilt's Astra Sharma to a third set at line 2. At line 5, Vanderbilt's Maria Casares taken Gabby Smith to a third set, with USC's Meredith Xepoleas closing in on a victory over Ashleigh Antal at line 6.
Santamaria had led Campbell 3-1 in the final set, but Campbell won four straight games and was serving for the match when Antal won a tiebreaker at 6 to keep USC off the board. Sharma, who clinched Vanderbilt's 4-3 comeback over Florida on Sunday night, was up 5-2 on Olmos, and it was the freshman from Australia who put Vanderbilt in its first final since 2001.
"At a couple of positions we played almost flawless tennis," said Vanderbilt coach Geoff Macdonald. "It was a hell of a match and we beat a really good USC team and made it look easy, but it wasn't."
Macdonald's team has peaked at the right time after some difficult going early in the dual match season.
"We were 4-4 on February 15th," Macdonald said. "The four losses were 4-3s, really, really close. A couple of them show up as 4-2s, but we had match point on one. If you look at our schedule and compare it to any other team in the country, we played the hardest schedule. I was worried early, gosh have I put them in too difficult a competitive arena every single time out. We got to where we embraced competing and relished it. We lost some close ones, but we stayed together really nicely as a unit, learned from them. And some of those players who lost heartbreaking 3-all matches ending up winning some big ones for us, so the tough schedule worked for us very well."
USC coach Richard Gallien was impressed with the level of play Vanderbilt displayed.
"They played really well. We had beaten them earlier in the year in a close match, and I knew this was going to be a very tough match," said Gallien. "Just give them a lot of credit. They played excellent tennis for a long period of time. That was a five-hour match when you consider the lightning stuff, so their kids did a terrific job."
Vanderbilt will need to sustain the level they displayed against USC in the final, with defending champion UCLA also hitting its stride after struggling with injuries much of the dual match season.
Against Georgia, No. 7 seed UCLA spotted the Bulldogs the doubles point, but roared back in singles, taking four matches in straight sets.
Jennifer Brady was first off the court, beating Silvia Garcia 6-3, 6-0 at line 3, and Catherine Harrison followed shortly thereafter, beating Kennedy Shaffer 6-1, 6-3.
Georgia's Lauren Herring had taken a 6-3, 3-1 lead over Robin Anderson at line 1, but Anderson won five straight games to force a third set. Chanelle Van Nguyen made it 3-1 UCLA with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Ellen Perez at line 2, and Kaitlin Ray finished it at line 6, beating Caroline Brinson 7-6(3), 6-2 to put the Bruins in their third final in four years.
"I've been blessed with the class I came in with," said Ray, a senior, who was injured and didn't play in UCLA's loss to Florida in the 2012 final. "Chanelle Van Nguyen and Robin Anderson, we've done some pretty special things and not many girls can get to at least the final four in all four years. Granted I was injured a couple of those years, but I've gotten to be a part of the national championship last year and now I'm about to play for another national title. That's such a privilege. To be part of a program where you wake up every morning with a chance to win a national title is all that you can ask for as an athlete."
Coach Stella Sampras Webster didn't worry when her team lost the doubles point.
"After the doubles and going into singles, I was really pleased with the way the team came out in singles," Sampras Webster said. "There was never a doubt they were going to go out and fight. I was really way the proud of the way they competed. Kaitlin has probably never clinched a match for us because her matches are so long, so for her to clinch this match, it's just unbelievable, and I'm so happy for her. Georgia's a tough team, they really come after you and I just felt we played really good tennis."
Georgia coach Jeff Wallace agreed.
"You've got to congratulate UCLA for a great match today," Wallace said. "I felt we had some opportunities, but UCLA really played well in some key situations, and you've got to take your hat off to them."
Sampras Webster acknowledged the disparity in NCAA finals experience may prove significant.
"These girls do know what it's like," said Sampras Webster, whose team has not faced Vanderbilt this year. "Our players are excited, they've been waiting for this all year, and I just feel like they're ready to play."
For more on the men's semifinals, including video, see College Tennis Today. The tournament hub page has links to live scoring and video. The men's final is scheduled for 1 p.m., the women's final for 5 p.m. CDT.
Doubles (Order of finish: 1, 2, 3)
1.#57 Andrew Harris/Alex Ghilea (OKLAHOMA) def. #30 Cameron Norrie/Trevor Johnson (TCU) 8-7 (6)
2. Nick Chappell/Facundo Lugones (TCU) def. Dane Webb/Spencer Papa (OKLAHOMA) 8-7 (7)
3.Axel Alvarez/Jose Salazar (OKLAHOMA) def. Guillermo Nuñez/Hudson Blake (TCU) 8-7 (5)
Singles (Order of finish: 5, 3, 4, 6, 2, 1)
1. #1 Axel Alvarez (OKLAHOMA) def. #49 Nick Chappell (TCU) 7-5, 7-6 (5)
2. #59 Guillermo Nuñez (TCU) def. #7 Andrew Harris (OKLAHOMA) 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0
3. #39 Cameron Norrie (TCU) def. #44 Dane Webb (OKLAHOMA) 6-2, 6-0
4. Facundo Lugones (TCU) def. #103 Alex Ghilea (OKLAHOMA) 6-1, 6-4
5. Spencer Papa (OKLAHOMA) def. Arnau Dachs (TCU) 6-0, 6-1
6. Florin Bragusi (OKLAHOMA) def. Will Stein (TCU) 6-3, 7-6 (4)
#3 VIRGINIA (28-3) def. #2 BAYLOR (25-6) 4-2 - Hurd Tennis Center Grandstand Courts - 1 p.m.
Head Coaches: Matt Knoll (BAYLOR) and Brian Boland (VIRGINIA)
Doubles (Order of finish: 1, 2, 3)
1.#8 Julian Lenz/Diego Galeano (BAYLOR) def. #2 Luca Corinteli/Ryan Shane (VIRGINIA) 8-4
2. #42 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski/Mac Styslinger (VIRGINIA) def. #79 Tony Lupieri/Mate Zsiga (BAYLOR) 8-6
3.Vince Schneider/Felipe Rios (BAYLOR) def. Collin Altamirano/J.C. Aragone (VIRGINIA) 8-7(6)
Singles (Order of finish: 1, 6, 4, 2, 3)
1.#8 Ryan Shane (VIRGINIA) def. #2 Julian Lenz (BAYLOR) 6-3, 6-4
2.#20 Mitchell Frank (VIRGINIA) def. #35 Tony Lupieri (BAYLOR) 6-0, 2-6, 7-5
3.#77 Collin Altamirano (VIRGINIA) def. #58 Max Tchoutakian (BAYLOR) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
4.Diego Galeano (BAYLOR) def. #19 Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (VIRGINIA) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2
5.#116 Mate Zsiga (BAYLOR) vs. Alexander Ritschard (VIRGINIA) 6-4, 2-6, 4-5, UF
6.J.C. Aragone (VIRGINIA) def. Felipe Rios (BAYLOR) 6-3, 7-5