Defending champion Florida clinched a spot in the women's team final with a win over Duke.
© Bill Kallenberg
By Chris Starrs, special to USTA.com
ATHENS, Ga. -- It was another rainy night in Georgia Monday at the NCAA Men's and Women's Tennis Championship, delaying the men's semifinals until the early-morning hours. But before the rains came, forcing play indoors, the picture for the women's final became crystal clear.
Defending national champions Florida advanced to its third consecutive final round and will once again face off against a team that calls California home. But this year, the No. 2 Lady Gators -- who in the last two years played Stanford -- will meet No. 1 UCLA at 1 p.m.
Both teams experienced an arduous path to the final, with Florida defeating No. 3 Duke 4-3 and the Lady Bruins besting No. 5 Southern California 4-3.
The Lady Gators (26-1) won the doubles point but not without considerable effort, as the Lady Blue Devils won 8-4 at No. 3 to force a deciding game at No. 2, where Florida's Lauren Embree and Joanna Mather slipped by Beatrice Capra and Rachel Kahan 9-8 (1).
"Honestly, I don't know how we won that match," said Florida coach Roland Thornqvist. "We found a way in doubles. I like the way we've played at the end of the doubles matches, starting with the SEC tournament. Throughout this tournament, we've been very good at making the right decisions and wanting the ball on our racquet, and today was no different. That was the difference in our getting the point. And in retrospect, we needed it."
Embree put Florida up 2-0 by dispatching Ester Gofeld, 6-4, 6-4, at No. 2 singles, but from that point on, it was anybody's match, as Duke won the first set in singles at the other five positions. Joanna Mather, who was suffering from the effects of too much Gatorade, came off the court next, defeating Duke's Hanna Mar, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, to give Florida the lead 3-0.
"Luckily, it wasn't my breakfast -- it was Gatorade," said Mather, who had to take a brief timeout between serves in the third set to utilize a sideline garbage can. "I was trying to decide if I should hit the second serve, but I realized that might get ugly, so between the first and second serve, I just decided to take a little break and then came back and hit my second serve. That's the first time that's ever happened to me. I didn't know what to do. I felt so much better afterward. I think I just drank too much Gatorade on the changeover. I probably distracted her a little bit -- I think I'd be distracted. I sure don't want to make a habit out of that."
But then Duke kicked it into gear, winning at No. 6 when Monica Turewicz beat Olivia Janowicz, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, then at No. 1, where Beatrice Capra, the No. 2-ranked player in the country, downed Allie Will, the nation's No. 1 player, 6-4, 6-4, and then at No. 4, where Kahan bested Sofie Oyen, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
The stage was then set for the clincher, where Florida's Alex Cercone beat Mary Clayton, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, in a game that lasted a little more than three hours. Cercone had to take a timeout to cool down from the opressive climes, but she kept her postseason singles record perfect, improving to 8-0 in NCAA Championship dual matches.
Lundvquist -- who won his 300th career coaching decision and his 275th at Florida -- said that despite such a physically grueling ordeal, his team would be up for a fight in Tuesday's final.
"If this was just any other match, you might feel fatigued tomorrow, but we're playing for a national championship," he said. "If you can walk, you play. Tomorrow's going to be about quality. It's not going to be about fitness in the beginning; we're going to have to execute well. If you're going to win any championship, you've got to walk right into it -- you're not going to back your way into anything. I think we're going to be ready."
Duke ends its season at 29-3.
NO. 1 UCLA 4, NO. 5 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 3
The Lady Bruins (26-2) had their own challenges in dealing with the Women of Troy, with five of six singles games going to three sets, two of which ended in UCLA's favor.
"We knew going in it was a match that was going to be a battle, and it was," said UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster. "It could've gone either way. We did a great job in doubles, coming out strong and having good starts and getting that doubles point, which was really important to us. Going into singles, we knew we had to play three more matches. I'm really proud of my team. They stayed within themselves, and we were able to battle through this."
UCLA took the doubles point, as Robin Anderson and Skylar Morton beat Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria 8-3 at No. 1 and Courtney Dolehide and Pamela Montez bested Valeria Pulido and Zoe Scandalis 8-4 at No. 2.
Morton put the Lady Bruins ahead 2-0 with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Christian at No. 4, but Gabriella DeSimone posted USC's first point by defeating Chanelle Van Nguyen, 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, at No. 5. Then Santamaria evened the score at 2-2 with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Montez at No. 3.
The Women of Troy then took a 3-2 advantage, when Pulido beat Carling Seguso, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1, at No. 6. But UCLA's two top singles players saved the day, as Anderson beat Scandalis, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2, at No. 1 and McCall Jones posted the clincher in a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win over Danielle Lao at No. 2.
"McCall has the tendency to play really well here," said Sampras Webster. "Last year, she stepped up for us when we played at Stanford. And McCall has struggled against Daneille Lao. McCall just loves the big moments, and she really embraced it today and was about to outlast Danielle."
"I think it got a little tight, and (Lao) knew it was going to come down to her," said Jones. "For me, it was the opposite effect. I played my better tennis when I knew it was going to come down to me. I started playing the way I wanted to play. I looked at the scoreboard and told myself I had to do it. I knew it was going to come down to me. I think it helped me."
USC's season ends at 24-4.
NO. 1 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA 4, NO. 4 UCLA 1
Just a few minutes before midnight, the Trojans finalized their plans to pursue their 20th tennis championship with a victory over cross-town rivals UCLA. The matches were moved indoors due to inclement weather.
"The people got their money's worth," said USC coach Peter Smith. "That was a long evening, and it was an amazing match. There's not an indoor court in southern California, but I guess it's not hurting us. I think it can fit into our game plans a lot."
UCLA got off to a fast start in doubles, as Marcos Giron and Warren Hardie defeated Emilio Gomez and Yannick Hanfmann 8-4 at No. 3, but USC (32-1) took the point, when Steve Johnson and Roberto Quiroz beat Alex Brigham and Adrien Puget 8-6 at No. 1 and Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento downed Nick Meister and Dennis Novikov 9-8 (6) at No. 2.
Johnson, the top-ranked collegiate player in the country, had provided the match-clinching victories in the Trojans' first two matches in Athens, but on Monday night, he got off the court first, defeating Clay Thompson, 6-1, 6-1, at No. 1 singles to give USC a 2-0 advantage. Sarmiento followed closely behind, winning, 6-1, 6-1, at No. 2 singles over Meister.
The Bruins earned their first and only point at No. 4, when Giron defeated Gomez, 6-3, 6-4, but USC got its clincher when Nguyen beat Novikov, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), at No. 3.
The Trojans will square off against No. 3 Virginia at 5 p.m. today, and Smith assented his club may be a little fatigued, at least physically.
"We might have legs that are tired, we might have arms that are tired, we might have minds that are tired, but I can tell you one thing -- the USC Trojans' hearts are not tired," he said. "We'll be there. We'll be ready to go."
UCLA ends its season at 26-4.
NO. 3 VIRGINIA 4, NO. 7 PEPPERDINE 1
The Cavaliers have been to the NCAA Championships 14 times and have advanced to the semifinals in five of the last six years, but Virginia is still without a national title. The Cavaliers will get another shot at the top prize after eliminating Pepperdine shortly after midnight. The teams were forced to move indoors due to rain and lightning in Athens.
"It was a great discomfort for both teams," said Virginia coach Brian Boland. "Great credit to Pepperdine, though. It was a great match. Certainly, we were well tested. Pepperdine has a great team, and I was pleased with how the guys fought from start to finish."
"I don't even have words for what my team has done this year and what they have overcome," said Pepperdine coach Adam Steinberg. "They did it the right way, the Pepperdine way. I'm more than proud. I can't even thank them enough for the ride they have taken me on this year. It's been so much fun."
Virginia (28-1) won the doubles point, as Justin Shane and Ian Uriguen defeated Sebastian Fanselow and Jenson Turner 8-4 at No. 2 and Alex Domijan and Mitchell Frank bested Hugh Clarke and David Sofaer 8-4 at No. 3.
Domijan put the Cavaliers up 2-0 with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Finn Tearney, and then the Waves' Fanselow recorded a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Jarmere Jenkins to make it 2-1.
But it was all Virginia after that, as Frank dispatched Alex Llompart, 7-6 (3), 6-2, at No. 3, and Drew Courtney defeated Mousheg Hovhannisyan by the same 7-6 (3), 6-2 score.
The Cavaliers will meet Southern California at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Pepperdine ends its season at 27-7.