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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Texas Two-Step: TCU Men Defeat Texas 4-3 and Texas A&M Women Beat Georgia 4-1 Indoors for Their First NCAA Team Championships

©Colette Lewis 2024--
Stillwater Oklahoma--

Two teams from the state of Texas won the first NCAA team titles in their programs' history on a hot, windy and eventually wet Sunday at the Greenwood Tennis Center. No. 4 seed TCU defeated No. 2 seed Texas in 4-3 thriller for the men's championship, while No. 13 seed Texas A&M took a move indoors in stride to defeat No. 7 seed Georgia 4-1 in the women's team tournament.

For the first time in ten years, the men's Division I NCAA team championship was decided in the last match on court with the score tied at 3. Virginia's 2013 title, also its first, is legendary for UCLA's Adrien Puget touching the net with his toe on match point in the final with Virginia's Mitchell Frank. Sebastian Gorzny's 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 win over Jonah Braswell didn't feature anything quite that dramatic; instead, the legions of TCU fans who made the trip from Fort Worth saw the sophomore from Austin Texas hit a flurry of winners in the final two games to deliver the long-awaited title.

That's not to say there weren't some tense moments for the purple-clad Horned Frog supporters. After Texas had taken a 3-2 lead with Micah Braswell's 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over Jake Fearnley at line 2, TCU needed both matches remaining on court.

Jack Pinnington Jones, down 6-4, 4-2 earlier to Texas's Eliot Spizzirri at line 1, fought back to take a take a 5-2 lead in the third set, keeping his break lead by claiming deciding points in his last two service games. 

With Spizzirri serving at 2-5, 30-all, he was overruled on a call, and there was a lengthy argument as to whether that was his second or third overrule. Although TCU maintained it was his third, the chair had recorded it as his second, so no point penalty was assessed. Pinnington Jones didn't let the delay break his focus, closing out the match to send every fan to the far end of the stadium.

Gorzny had built a 3-0 lead in the third set when Pinnington Jones won, but more tense moments were ahead. 

The pro-TCU crowd was loud, and was given several soft warnings, and finally were formally warned when an overrule of Braswell resulted in catcall of "hooking horns" from the stands. TCU head coach David Roditi twice went to the baseline and pleaded with the fans; there were no more incidents after the warning, although Braswell said he heard something he thought warranted a point penalty. 

After Braswell held for 3-1, Gorzny started his service game with the score at 15-all, as both Roditi and Texas assistant Ryan Lipman were given point penalties for what Roditi later characterized as "just talking to each other."

But if Gorzny seemed to be showing signs of feeling the pressure, he gave himself some breathing room, assisted by Braswell's backhand errors, that led to another break and a 4-2 Gorzny lead. A truly poor service game from Gorzny followed, with his first serve deserting him, and it appeared that both players were struggling with nerves as the end approached.

It was then that Gorzny found another gear, breaking Braswell at 15 with, in succession, a forehand winner, a backhand winner, a volley winner and a forehand pass, giving him a chance to serve out the first championship in TCU history.

He missed a forehand into the net, to get off to an inauspicious start, but an ace, a forehand volley winner and a forehand winner gave him three match points. Gorzny needed only one, cracking an ace to send his nine teammates into a manic celebration.

"This was actually my first 3-3, last match on," said Gorzny, who was out for seven weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, but returned to the lineup to win all three of his matches at the final site. "I've been dreaming about it, and it came with the biggest stakes. But I knew I could do it, I believed in myself, had my teammates behind me and somehow got over the finish line when I needed to."

TCU had come out strong in doubles, winning at lines 1 and 2 with line 3 going unfinished. Both teams had won their semifinal matches after dropping the doubles point, so neither had a reason to believe that would decide the match.

The teams split first sets, but given the stakes, it was unlikely that all the matches would be in straight sets. Three did finish quickly, with TCU's Lui Maxted taking line 4 from Pierre-Yves Bailly 6-2, 6-4 to make it 2-0, but the Longhorns countered with 6-2, 6-1 win by Gilles-Arnaud Bailly at line 3 and Cleeve Harper's  6-3, 6-2 victory over Tomas Jirousek at line 6. 

As for the three-set victories, Roditi was full of appreciation for what Pinnington Jones had accomplished. 

"What he did today was incredible, incredible" said Roditi, a former TCU star who has led the program for 14 years. "To come back from a set and a break down against Spizzirri, in the finals of the NCAA. It's usually Spirzzirri who's doing that to somebody else. It was just incredible."

Pinnington Jones wasn't discouraged after dropping the first set, acknowledging that Spizzirri's level was high throughout the first half of the match, and he had to raise his to compete with it.

"He just waxed in the first set, so I couldn't get pumped, couldn't get into the match," said the sophomore from England, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "But I wanted to make sure my teammates could hear me, get the crowd involved as much as possible and I think I did a good job of that. I thought, he's going to have to earn this match and there's a lot of tennis left to be played."

Texas head coach Bruce Berque commended TCU for their performance Sunday, with the Horned Frogs claiming their second win of the year over the Longhorns, who beat them in the Big 12 final on the same Stillwater courts last month, after splitting home matches earlier in the season.

"I thought both teams competed super hard as usual," said Berque, who won the NCAA title in 2019 in his first year as Texas's coach. "That's what happens when these two teams play each other. Everyone wants it so bad, and they put it all on the line and the margins are super thin."

The NCAAs are not over for either TCU or Texas, with four  Longhorns and two Horned Frogs in the singles championships which begin Monday.

The three-hour and 40 minutes men's final was played entirely outdoors, but ominous clouds rolled in as it was ending, and the women's final was disrupted midway through the doubles, first with sprinkles, then with more serious precipitation.

There was only a short delay, with the six indoor courts steps from the outdoor facility, and Texas A&M, long considered an outdoor team, found the conditions to their liking.

"I don't know how many doubles points were played(inside), maybe 25, and I felt like we won 20 of them," said Texas A&M head coach Mark Weaver, in his ninth year as the head coach after 16 years as an assistant with the Aggies. "It was pretty crazy, how we came out in an all-out blitz, everything went our way; the crowd really got into it and that really set the tone."

The Aggies continued that momentum into the singles, taking four first sets in singles, but with three wins already this year over Texas A&M, Georgia was not about to concede.

The Bulldogs grabbed leads in the second set of three of matches where they had lost the first, and there was no obvious path for the Aggies, especially after Texas A&M's Carson Branstine failed to convert four match points serving for her match against Alexandra Vecic at line 2. Up 6-2, 5-2, Branstine couldn't cash in on three match points on her serve and then on a deciding point with Vecic sering at 3-5. The unforced error count rose, and when Branstine, who had rejoined the Aggies just last month, made another unforced error serving at 5-6, 15-40, she smacked the backdrop with her racquet and the resulting point penalty gave the set to Vecic.

Georgia got on the board with Anastasiia Lopata's 6-4, 6-1 win over Mia Kupres at line 4, but the only Bulldog able to convert a second set lead into a split was Mell Reasco at line 3. 

Texas A&M's Mary Stoiana came from 4-1 down in the second set to serve for the match against Dasha Vidmanova at line 1, and winning a tiebreaker to give the Aggies their second point was extremely satisfying to the nation's top-ranked player, who had lost to Vidmanova from 5-1 up in the third set in SEC regular season play this year.

"I knew I had to come out sharp, she's a great player and makes a lot of balls," said the junior from Connecticut, who was named the Most Outstanding player and is the top seed in the singles tournament. "I know I definitely have the game to be successful against her, so I just took advantage of my opportunities, coming in on the right short balls, finishing at the net and that's the game I have to bring against a really good player like her."

Guillermina Grant of Georgia couldn't serve out her second set against Lucciana Perez at line 5, and Perez, last year's Roland Garros girls finalist, went on to claim the second set tiebreaker to give Texas A&M a 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, Nicole Khirin, who clinched the Aggies win over Tennessee in the semifinals, found her game to open the third set against Reasco. Despite getting a nosebleed up 3-1 in the third, the sophomore from Israel blasted winner after winner to close out Reasco 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, setting off a celebration that lasted well over 45 minutes and included a Gatorade shower.

Weaver, who had called the Aggies seed "lucky 13" saw the irony in their first NCAA title coming indoors.

"No one has complained about having to play indoors as much as me over the years," said Weaver. "I think our record is like 10 and 50 indoors in my coaching career. It's definitely been our kryptonite, so it's pretty crazy how it turned out."

Georgia head coach Drake Bernstein knew that beating Texas A&M for a fourth time this year would be a challenge, but he recognized how the rivalry has benefitted both teams.

"Each one of those three wins was very special and they required that same kind of effort, we just happened to come out on the right side of it," said Bernstein, in his first year as head coach of the Bulldogs. "I don't feel we're in this position without them. They made us a better team all year, raised the bar for us, and when you have four battles like that you end up in a pretty competitive place by the end of the year."

Weaver agreed.

"They kicked our butts three times and we wouldn't be at the level we are right now, maybe compare it to the Federer-Nadal rivalry, how they pushed each other to be better players," Weaver said. "They pushed us as a team to get better, took it to us three times and we used that as fuel to keep working hard and striving for more. We ultimately played the highest level we could possibly play the entire NCAA tournament."

The All-Tournament Teams:

NCAA Division I Men’s & Women’s Tennis Team Championships

All-Tournament Teams (based on performance in all rounds)



1 Mary Stoiana, Texas A&M

2 Carson Branstine, Texas A&M

3 Nicole Khirin, Texas A&M

4 Anastasiia Lopata, Georgia

5 Lucciana Perez, Texas A&M

6 Vivian Yang, Pepperdine

1 Mia Kupres/Mary Stoiana, Texas A&M

2 Carson Branstine/Lucciana Perez, Texas A&M

3 Nicole Khirin/Jeanette Mireles, Texas A&M

Most Outstanding – Mary Stoiana, Texas A&M


1 Jack Pinnington, TCU

2 Micah Braswell, Texas

3 Gilles-Arnaud Bailly, Texas

4 Lui Maxted, TCU

5 Sebastian Gorzny, TCU

6 Cleeve Harper, Texas

1 Jake Fearnley / Pedro Vives TCU

2 Sebastian Gorzny / Jack Pinnington, TCU

3 Cannon Kingsley / Jack Anthrop, Ohio State

Most Outstanding - Jack Pinnington, TCU


Men's Final, Sunday May 19, 2024

TCU[4] d. Texas[2] 4-3

1. Jake Fearnley and Pedro Vives(TCU) d. Eliot Spizzirri and Siem Woldeab(TEX) 6-4
2. Sebastian Gorzny and Jack Pinnington (TCU) d. Micah Braswell and Eshan Talluri(TEX) 6-3
3.Lucas Brown and Cleeve Harper (TEX) v Duncan Chan and Lui Maxted(TCU) 5-4, unfinished

Order of finish: 2, 1

1. Jack Pinnington Jones(TCU) d. Eliot Spizzirri(TEX) 2-6, 6-4, 6-2
2. Micah Braswell(TEX) d. Jake Fearnley(TCU) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1
3. Gilles-Arnaud Bailly(TEX) d. Pedro Vives(TCU) 6-2, 6-1
4. Lui Maxted(TCU) d. Pierre-Yves Bailly(TEX) 6-2, 6-4
5. Sebastian Gorzny(TCU) d. Jonah Braswell(TEX) 7-5, 4-6, 6-3
6. Cleeve Harper(TEX) d. Tomas Jirousek(TCU) 6-3, 6-2

Order of finish:

4, 3, 6, 2, 1, 5


Texas A&M[13] d. Georgia[7] 4-1
1. Aysegul Mert and Dasha Vidmanova(UGA) Mia Kupres and Mary Stoiana(TAMU) 5-4, unfinished
2. Carson Branstine and Lucciana Perez (TAMU) d. Guillermina Grant and Mai Nirundorn (UGA) 6-4
3 Nicole Khirin and Jeanette Mireles(TAMU) d. Anastasiia Lopata and Mell Reasco (UGA) 6-3

Order of finish: 3, 2

1. Mary Stoiana(TAMU) d. Dasha Vidmanova(UGA) 6-1, 7-6(4)
2. Carson Branstine (TAMU) v. Alexandra Vecic(UGA) 6-2, 5-7, 5-0, unfinished
3. Nicole Khirin (TAMU) d. Mell Reasco(UGA) 6-4, 3-6, 6-1
4. Anastasiia Lopata(UGA) d. Mia Kupres(TAMU) 6-4, 6-1
5. Lucciana Perez(TAMU) d. Guillermina Grant (UGA) 6-2 7-6(2)
6. Mai Nirundorn(UGA) v Jeanette Mireles (TAMU) 7-6(5), 4-5, unfinished

Order of finish: 4, 5, 1, 3

The individual tournament begins Monday at 9 a.m. Earlier Sunday, men's top seed Johannus Monday of Tennessee withdrew, with Ryan Colby of Georgia taking his place at the top of the draw.

Brackets with times can be found at the NCAA tournament page, with Cracked Racquets providing ESPN Plus coverage and individual streams for each of the 12 courts available.


Colin said...

What an exciting day of tennis! JPJ's comeback against Spizzirri was very impressive, as Spizzirri had looked completely in control for the first hour. And after some nervous play in the middle of that third set Gorzny played fearlessly aggressive tennis to close out his match, some beautiful shots in there. Glad the controversy over the overrules against Spizzirri didn't have a material impact.

Mixed feelings on Branstine: given that she lost the end of her senior year to injury I can't begrudge her wanting to return to experience what she missed. But I do not at all like this thing of players joining a team in April after not being a part of the team all year (same happened with DePaul men). That said, her singles performance was surprisingly uneven for a player who'd been making a go of it on the pro circuit - losing ten straight games from 62 52, one of those games on a penalty, is pretty rough in any match, but especially in a championship.

Personally glad this is the last year we'll be seeing rosters with so many fifth-years.

Anyway, a hell of a fun day following those live streams! Kudos to Al Gruskin for his tireless hours of commentary.