Wednesday, May 23, 2012
USC upends UVa's NCAA title hopes
By David Ching
ATHENS, Ga. -- USC lost the doubles point for just the second time all season, then waited through a three-hour rain delay, but the Trojans barely escaped with a win against Virginia after play resumed indoors to claim their 20th men's tennis national championship.
Eight hours after the top-seeded Trojans started Tuesday's finals against the third-seeded Cavaliers, USC clinched a 4-2 victory when freshman Yannick Hanfmann beat Justin Shane in a third-set tiebreaker at No. 5 singles. Only one match was still in play, and Virginia's Julen Uriguen led freshman Roberto Quiroz 6-2, 6-7 (3), 4-3 when Hanfman completed his win.
"Tradition lives on," said USC coach Peter Smith, whose team won its fourth straight NCAA title. "It's unbelievable."
It marked the fourth straight year that USC eliminated Virginia in the NCAA championships -- with the previous three coming when the Cavaliers entered as the tournament's No. 1 seed. The Trojans beat Virginia 4-3 in the finals last year.
"I always say that you have to be willing to go through the pain if you're going to play the game so to speak," Virginia coach Brian Boland said, "so these guys continue to get back here and put themselves in a position to become champions."
Virginia got off to a quick start by winning the doubles point in the only matches played outdoors before thunderstorms hit the Athens area. After a lengthy delay, play was set to resume when a second storm hit, forcing tournament organizers to send the players to Georgia's indoor courts for singles competition.
The Trojans began their comeback there, with top-seeded Steve Johnson extending his winning streak to 66 consecutive matches by beating Jarmere Jenkins 6-3, 6-2 and USC's Emilio Gomez beating Drew Courtney 6-4, 6-2 at No. 4 singles.
Johnson concluded his dual-match career having lost only once in NCAA tournament play, in the round of 16 as a freshman. He was named the tournament's most outstanding player for the second straight year and made the all-tournament team at both No. 1 doubles -- along with partner Quiroz -- and No. 1 singles.
"I came back to win four and I don't think there was ever a doubt in my mind that I was going to come back, or anybody here," Johnson said. "But to do it with this group of guys, they're such a special group and to be able to mentor these young freshmen, even though some days were worse than others, but today was one of the better days and these guys are going to carry on the legacy in the next four years. I'm excited to watch them grow."
Virginia's Mitchell Frank evened the overall score at 2-all when he beat Daniel Nguyen 6-3, 6-1 at No. 3 singles before Ray Sarmiento gave the Trojans the lead once again with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Alex Domijan at No. 2.
That left only the No. 5 and 6 singles matches still in play -- they were forced to wait until the conclusion of other singles matches, as Georgia's indoor facility has only four courts -- and Virginia held late leads in both.
Even before facing that desperate situation, Smith admitted that he considered the possibility that the Trojans' title run could end during the weather delay and that his team's play lifted his spirits.
"Sometimes you inspire your team and sometimes my team inspires me. I went back to my hotel room -- a couple of guys wanted to go back there and to be honest I couldn't visualize [winning]," Smith said of the Trojans' activities during the weather delay. "That was hard for me. I got a few pep talks, went in there and faked it to the team and these guys really stepped up."
Shane broke serve in the third set to go up 5-4, but Hanfmann broke back in the ensuing game, then both players held serve until the tiebreaker. Hanfmann won four of the last five points in the tiebreaker to wrap up the clinching win, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (4).
"It's unfortunate we came up short," Boland said. "I thought we did things the right way and gave ourselves a chance to finish at the end with a national championship, but we fell short."
Once again it was USC which served as Virginia's nemesis, with Johnson completing his career as a leading contributor for a four-time national champion.
"No one can say they did it better," Smith said.