Max de Vroome clinched the NCAA men's national championship for USC by defeating Oklahoma's Andrew Harris at No. 4 singles.
© Bill Kallenberg
Kyle McPhillips won a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 decision over North Carolina's Caroline Price to clinch the NCAA women's national title for UCLA.
© Bill Kallenberg
By Chris Starrs, special to USTA.com
ATHENS, Ga. – The NCAA tennis trophies are both going back to Cali.
At the 2014 NCAA Tennis Championships, No. 1 Southern California men's team picked up its 21st national championship and its fifth crown in the last six years, coming from behind to defeat No. 2 Oklahoma, 4-2, at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the University of Georgia campus. And in the women’s final, No. 5 UCLA held off No. 7 North Carolina, 4-3, to earn its second national title.
Making history, Trojan-style
When the 2013-14 season began last fall, Southern California coach Peter Smith wasn’t sure his team would be back in the NCAA final seven months later.
“I don’t think anyone would have said we’d win the NCAAs in September,” Smith said. “It’s a credit to them how hard they work. We lost in the quarters last year, and I don’t think we were one of the name schools (this year). We got ranked 4 or 5. I looked at the squad and knew we needed to get better. And we certainly got better.”
The Trojans (32-3) battled back from an early 2-0 deficit and snatched the national crown when Max de Vroome defeated Andrew Harris, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, at No. 4 singles. de Vroome had numerous chances to clinch the match, but Harris continued to battle back, trying valiantly to keep the Sooners (28-4) in the fight.
“There’s so much going through your mind when you see your teammates right next to the court,” said de Vroome, who came in ranked 91st in the country. “They help you through it. There’s no way I could have done it without them. You play for them, you play for yourself, and you keep going with the play and staying disciplined.”
It didn’t look promising early for the Trojans, as Oklahoma – making its first appearance in an NCAA final and owning but seven tournament wins in school history – captured the doubles point and took a quick 2-0 lead in singles, when Dane Webb defeated Roberto Quiroz, 6-1, 6-2.
“We played well, and we had chances, but they overcame some tough situations early,” Oklahoma coach John Roddick said. “That’s probably some of the best singles I’ve seen played this year, and I think we played some of the best doubles that’s been played this year. It was a very high-quality match.”
Yannick Hanfmann finally got Southern California on the board, defeating Axel Alvarez, 7-5, 6-2, at No. 1 singles, and teammates Ray Sarmiento and Eric Johnson followed with wins at No. 2 and No. 5 singles, respectively, to give the Trojans a 3-2 lead, setting the stage for de Vroome’s dramatic clincher.
Southern California has won the national championship on five different occasions in Athens, and Smith joked he’d like to “play all our home matches at the University of Georgia.”
Although Oklahoma was disappointed to let its first shot at the NCAA crown slip away, the Sooners enjoyed a historic season and have sent notice that they intend to find themselves in the championship fight again soon.
“It’s been the most fun season for me,” Webb said. “It seems like all our work paid off. We got a bunch of good wins, we got to No. 1 in the country, and we got to the final here. A few points go our way [and] maybe we win it. I’m proud of the team and proud of the effort and had a lot of fun. We made a lot of history for OU. That’s always nice to be a part of. A big reason why I came here was because I thought we could do a lot of stuff that had never been done here before.”
To reach the finals, Southern California defeated Idaho (4-0), Oklahoma State (4-2), No. 16 Columbia (4-3), No. 9 Texas (4-1) and No. 4 Virginia (4-0). The Sooners bested Montana (4-0), Harvard (4-1), No. 15 Kentucky (4-0) and No. 6 UCLA (4-2).
UCLA finally victorious in Athens
After six runner-up finishes in the last 32 years and three stints as the bridesmaid in the last decade, UCLA finally collected its second NCAA women’s tennis championship in school history, as Kyle McPhillips defeated North Carolina’s Caroline Price, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in a grueling deciding battle at No. 3 singles to clinch the victory.
Tuesday marked the fourth time the Bruins – who won their first national title in 2008 in Tulsa, Okla. – had reached the semifinals in Athens.
“We’ve been in a few finals here, and it was nice to finally win one,” UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said. “It’s unbelievable. It didn’t really hit me until the end. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
The Tar Heels (29-6) were making their first appearance in the final.
“It’s always tough to end your season with a loss at any point and time, and we’ve never been to the final before, so I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel,” North Carolina coach Brian Kalbas said. “But I have mixed emotions. I’m really proud of our team, and I thought we fought really, really hard and put ourselves in a difficult position, losing the doubles point and getting down a little bit. But we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win.”
UCLA (27-2) remained perfect in doubles play this season to take the doubles point and go up, 1-0, and got off to an excellent start in singles, as Robin Anderson – ranked No. 2 nationally – defeated top-ranked Jamie Loeb, 6-2, 6-2, to put UCLA up 2-0. Loeb saw her 25-match winning streak halted and fell to 31-2 in dual matches this season. Anderson has won 14 straight matches and is 21-3, all at No. 1 singles, but she came into Tuesday having lost twice to Loeb this year.
“I went into the match thinking that I had nothing to lose, so I decided to go out and play my game and stay really aggressive, and regardless of the outcome, I knew I'd give it my all and went out there and played my best,” Anderson said. “I was really nervous, and I tried really hard not to show it. I was nervous at the end of the first set when it looked like she was coming back, but I fought really hard and pulled out the win.”
After Anderson’s victory at No. 1 singles, the two squads traded victories until North Carolina’s Tessa Lyons bested Kaitlin Ray, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, to knot the match, 3-3, set up the showdown between McPhillips and Price.
McPhillips, last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, endured four championship points and three late break points before finally closing Price down in the third set on Court 3.
“This is the single best accomplishment I’ve ever had in my life,” said McPhillips, who was 15-4 in dual matches this season. “I’ve played (junior) Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the US Open, the French Open, and nothing compares to this day. Winning individually is so different from winning for your team, your coaches and your school. There’s been so much effort and hard work that has gone into this moment. This is the highlight of my tennis career.”
UCLA’s road to the final included victories over Sacramento State (4-0), Ole Miss (4-0), No. 12 Miami (4-0), No. 4 Duke (4-0) and No. 8 Florida (4-2). To reach the final, North Carolina beat VCU (4-0), Georgia State (4-0), No. 10 Texas A&M (4-0), No. 2 Alabama (4-2) and No. 11 Stanford (4-2).