Top Seed USC Advances to 2012 ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship

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Top Seed USC Advances to 2012 ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship
Host team Virginia upset 4-1 by Ohio State

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The anticipated showdown between top seed USC and two seed Virginia will not happen on Monday in the finals of the 2012 ITA National Men’s Team Indoor Championship, hosted by the University of Virginia at the Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Va. The Trojans were able to get past four seed Georgia 4-1, but the Cavaliers were stunned by three seed Ohio State 4-1. USC will take on the Buckeyes at Noon (ET) on Monday in the championship match.

In the first semifinal, the doubles point was never in doubt. While the match at the third spot was tight the entire duration, the Trojans took command of the other two spots early. The duo of Steve Johnson and Yannick Hanfmann, ranked No. 28 in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Doubles Rankings, was simply too much for Wil Spencer and Garrett Brasseaux, the seventh-ranked pair nationally. Johnson and Hanfmann raced out to an early lead and claimed the match 8-3. The match at the second position was over not long after, with Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento easily defeating Hernus Pieters and Sadio Doumbia. USC took the 1-0 lead moving into singles action.

With six players ranked inside the top 90 of the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings, the Trojans appeared to be in good position to advance to the finals, needing to take just three singles points. However, Georgia came out of the gates strong, taking the first set on four of the six courts. Bulldog freshman Nathan Pasha put together another strong performance, breezing past No. 86 Roberto Quiroz 6-3, 6-1 at the sixth spot to even the score at 1-1. One court over, No. 36 Hanfmann claimed the opening set 6-3 from No. 72 Pieters, but was locked in a tight second set. Hanfmann earned an opportunity to serve out the victory at 5-4, doing so successfully to move USC back in front 2-1.

The final four singles matches featured clashes between top 70 players in the latest Campbell/ITA Singles Rankings. Georgia won the first set in three of the four, with No. 11 Johnson the only Trojan player able to move into the second set with a lead. No. 47 Emilio Gomez seemed to provide the turning point in the overall match, losing the first set 6-3 to No. 43 Ignacio Taboada, but quickly rebounded to win the second set 6-2. Gomez won four of the first five games in the final set, building momentum not only for himself, but for the rest of the Trojans still on court. He was able to close out the final set 6-2, leaving USC one match shy of claiming a spot in the finals.

With Georgia’s No. 55 KU Singh points shy of closing out a huge victory over No. 14 Nguyen, along with Bulldog and No. 3 in the nation Spencer locked in a tight match with No. 18 Sarmiento, Trojan senior Steve Johnson reacted in a positive way with the pressure on his shoulders. Johnson, ranked No. 11 in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Singles Rankings, won a back and forth first set against No. 21 Doumbia 6-4. Johnson took a quick 2-0 lead in the second, but Doumbia rallied to get back on serve to take a 3-2 lead. The set remained on serve until 5-5, when Johnson picked up his level of play to earn the break. Johnson nailed a second serve ace on match point to give the Trojans the 4-1 victory,

“It was no surprise how difficult that match was,” USC head coach Peter Smith stated. “Georgia is a great program. They have a lot of talent and show a lot of fight. I thought we had the advantage in doubles going in. It was an absolute dogfight out there. I am proud of the way we played; we really showed the heart of a champion today. Ray (Sarmiento), Daniel (Nguyen), and Emilio (Gomez) really showed who we are in their matches. Emilio did a great job of coming back to win the last two sets. This year is going to be a daily challenge for Steve (Johnson). He is getting everybody’s best shot. Guys are excited just to get to 3-2 against him. He definitely has to adjust to some things that most guys never have to, but he is a warrior and competitor.”

USC_UGA Four Singles
Winning the match at four singles seemed to give USC all the momentum

With the large Virginia crowd having filed in about halfway through the USC/Georgia match, the anticipation for the beginning of the Virginia/Ohio State match had plenty of time to build. As doubles action got going, it was clear that the Cavaliers were going to be in for a struggle in an attempt to win the doubles point. The Buckeyes struck first, as Devin McCarthy and Ille Van Engelen, ranked No. 27 in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings, bounced back from letting a break lead slip away to defeat No. 42 Alex Domijan and Steven Rooda 8-6.

The other two doubles matches were decided in tiebreaks. In the matchup at the first spot, two top 15 duos in the Campbell/ITA College Tennis Doubles Rankings could not break serve, resulting in the tiebreak. With their backs against the wall, Drew Courtney and Jarmere Jenkins, ranked No. 12, ran away with the tiebreak seven points to two against the top-ranked duo of Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola. All focus shifted to the tiebreak on court three, where both duos struggled to keep their nerve in the early going. The Ohio State pair of Peter Kobelt and Connor Smith overcame letting a couple of match points slip away during the 7-6 game, earning a mini-break for a six points to five lead and effectively serving out the doubles point.

The first sets of singles play indicated that neither team was going to give away anything, as each set finished with a score of 7-5 or 7-6. The tension in the home crowd increased dramatically when Ohio State’s McCarthy, No. 65 in the Campbell/ITA Rankings, finished off a straight sets victory over Cavalier Justin Shane, ranked No. 37 nationally. Virginia finally got on the board thanks to Drew Courtney at the four position, taking out No. 99 Van Engelen 7-6(5), 7-5.

The next match to finish was the upset of the tournament, as the Buckeyes’ Peter Kobelt stunned Campbell/ITA College Tennis Rankings top player Mitchell Frank in straight sets at the third position. Kobelt battled his way to win the first set 7-5, but Frank dug in and continued his relentless style of play in the second. Both players were solid on serve the entire set, which eventually went to a tiebreak. Frank seemed to be in control of the tiebreak, but the solid baseline game of Kobelt wore down Frank in the end. When Frank’s shot misfired on a Kobelt match point, Frank had officially suffered his first defeat in college competition, and the Virginia crowd was feeling more than concerned about the outcome.

The final three singles matches went the distance. While No. 16 Buchanan had a slight chance to close out the upset at the first position late in his second set against No. 10 Jenkins, his level of play dropped dramatically, allowing Jenkins to take the set 7-5. On the next court, No. 12 Rola managed to earn a break halfway through the third set against Domijan. Although Domijan forced Rola to serve it out, the Buckeye sophomore was more than up to the challenge, blasting an ace on his second match point to finish off the upset of Virginia. With the loss, the Cavaliers’ 94-match home winning streak was snapped.

“There were a lot of tiebreakers played out there tonight,” Ohio State head coach Ty Tucker stated. “We were fortunate enough to win a couple of them. If you play this game long enough, you get lucky and win some matches like this. We are an energetic team usually, no matter where we play. We knew this match would be three or four hours and we would have to compete hard for that long. We have had a lot of matches against USC. They are the best team in the country, but again, if you play this game long enough, you can come up with a few wins against teams like USC or Virginia.”

OSU Celebrates Upset
Blaz Rola swarmed by teammates after clinching the upset of Virginia

Consolation play also wrapped up on Sunday. To open up the day’s matches, eleven seed Texas A&M defeated conference rival Baylor 4-0, while twelve seed Pepperdine knocked off sixteen seed Tennessee 4-2. The Duke Blue Devils, seeded tenth, were able to leave Charlottesville on a high note with a 4-0 sweep of five seed Florida, and nine seed Stanford ended the tournament 2-1 after a 4-1 victory over six seed Kentucky. The final two matches of the night saw fourteen seed Texas defeat Auburn 4-2 and eight seed UCLA slip past thirteen seed California 4-3 in a wild finish.

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