By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
In the desert, the Golden Bears growl loudest.
The UC Berkeley team from USTA Northern California earned their third Tennis On Campus national title in five years, completing an undefeated run at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in Surprise, Ariz., by beating the University of Florida, 27-13.
With a break from the scorching sun of Thursday and Friday – when temperatures reached over 100 degrees on the courts – a milder 87-degree Saturday provided a picturesque ending for Berkeley’s trip to Surprise. In the morning’s national semifinal, the Golden Bears avenged their 2013 quarterfinal loss to the University of Georgia by bouncing the defending champion Bulldogs with a 30-19 victory to set up the tilt with Florida.
Then the day got better. The Golden Bears jumped out to a 6-0 lead after the women’s doubles set and won the first 10 games of the match overall.
"We owe it to our girls, Stephanie [Hui], Ingrid [Ballus Armet], Sarah [Dessouki] and Steph Lin," said team captain Teddy Chung on the win. "They're phenomenal because they take the pressure off our guys, and then in turn the guys get more pumped up knowing that we can play with a lead."
Florida shifted the momentum for a handful of minutes with a 6-3 triumph in the third stanza, but then freshman Manpreet Tiwana then righted things for the Golden Bears, winning men’s singles, 6-1, to extend the lead to 21-8 after four sets.
“Few teams compete with the skill and passion of these UC Berkeley kids,” said Glenn Arrington, USTA Tennis On Campus National Manager. “They went out and just crushed it all weekend. It’s good to see a team that prepares as diligently as they do enjoy this moment.
“I hope their recent success will inspire the hundreds of schools involved with Tennis On Campus to raise their level. As it is, all the clubs here in Surprise have impressed us with how well they’ve played and supported one another as teammates.”
Florida was making its second consecutive national final appearance, having lost last year in Surprise to Georgia, 26-24. Captain Adam Decker admitted that this loss was painful, but the 2014 journey from Gainesville, Fla., all the way back to Nationals was a fulfulling one.
"Earlier today in the semis, playing my singles match, it hit me that this whole year was awesome," said Decker, a senior. "I didn't think for a long time that we could make it back to a final. This team, they're fantastic tennis players and we've bonded for life."
In Thursday’s pool play, the UC Berkeley swept Southern Methodist University, the College of William & Mary and the University of Pennsylvania to advance to the Gold bracket, which narrows the field from 64 to 16 after the first day of competition. Since 2012, the Bears have never failed to reach the Gold bracket and have compiled an 18-1 record in match play at Nationals.
"Every team has the ability to succeed, and I think when you win this title it all hinges on luck," said Chung. "There's never an easy match here, and you never take an opponent for granted."
The tournament moves back to the East Coast next year, when the 16th annual Tennis On Campus National Championship begins on April 9, 2015, at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C.