capture 2017 NCAA team titles
Chris Starrs | May 24, 2017
ATHENS, Ga. – Thanks to the unpredictable weather, Tuesday’s team finals at the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships was an in-and-out affair.
Starting some four hours after originally scheduled and finally moving indoors in the late afternoon, No. 2 Virginia won its third consecutive men’s title with a 4-2 victory over Atlantic Coast Conference mates North Carolina. In the women’s final, held during the evening session and contested outdoors after the unfriendly climes became more accommodating, No. 1 Florida recorded a 4-1 victory over defending champion Stanford to win the school’s seventh national championship.
Boland’s last stand
The tournament at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the University of Georgia campus had been fraught with rainy weather since last Saturday, forcing the migration of key men’s and women’s matches either inside (at extremely late hours) or over to Atlanta and Georgia Tech’s Ken Byers Tennis Complex.
Tuesday was no different, as rain backed up the scheduled noon start, obliging the Cavaliers (34-1) and the No. 9 Tar Heels (29-5) to eventually play under a roof.
“I love Athens now. Athens has been tough on us over the years,” said Virginia head coach Brian Boland, who has brought the Cavaliers to Athens three previous times only to be eliminated in the semifinals. “We’ve overcome a lot of adversity, and we talked about that, and once again, we come to Athens this year, and adversity struck with the changes in the weather and the things you have to go through.”
In winning the program’s third consecutive national crown and fourth in the last five years, Virginia made quick work of North Carolina – which was playing for the first national tennis title in school history – in doubles and avoided any potential third-set anxiety with timely singles victories.
The Cavaliers’ leadoff man came through in a big way, as Alexsander Ritschard disarmed Ronnie Schneider at No. 1 by a 6-1, 6-3 tally. Then Collin Altamirano bested Simon Soendergaard, 6-3, 6-1, at No. 4 to put Virginia up 3-1. North Carolina’s Robert Kelly and William Blumberg earned victories for their side, but Virginia wrapped things up at No. 5 singles, as J.C. Aragone defeated Jack Murray, 7-6 (2), 6-2.
Boland, at Virginia for 16 years, coached the Cavaliers for the last time Tuesday. In March, it was announced that he would leave Virginia to serve as the head of men’s tennis for USTA Player Development at the newly constructed USTA National Campus at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to have an impact on American tennis – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Boland, a two-time ITA National Coach of the Year. “I think the timing is right, and I’m excited about it.”
A battle to the end
In the women’s championship, played under a clear night sky, Florida (29-3) galloped to a 3-0 lead, taking the doubles point with 6-2 and 6-1 "clinical” wins and then getting singles victories from seniors Kourtney Keegan (6-0, 6-0 at No. 6) and Belinda Woolcock (6-1, 6-3 at No. 1).
It looked like the Gators might unseat the defending champs in shutout fashion, but Stanford’s Melissa Lord stopped Josie Kuhlman, 6-4, 7-5, at No. 2 singles, and the Cardinal continued to battle and survive until Ingrid Neel outlasted Taylor Davidson (who wound up in an Atlanta hospital after Monday’s match against Ohio State and was hindered by leg cramps on Tuesday), 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, to clinch the match and the championship.
It was the fourth national title for Florida coach Roland Thornqvist and the first for the Gators since winning in Athens in 2012.
“They were clinical in doubles today on the big stage, and then at the end, it looked like we were going to win an hour and a half into it in singles," said Thornqvist, now in his 16th season at Florida. "And then Stanford, the class that they are, found a way to get in there and made it super interesting.”
“Their seniors, Woolcock and Keegan, the bookends of their team, were outstanding today,” said Stanford coach Lele Forood. “Our team fought hard, and we were coming back in a bunch of matches, but we just couldn’t find that one extra.”
The No. 6 Cardinal (26-3) was seeking their 19th national championship, but tournament upsets over No. 4 North Carolina and No. 2 Ohio State (played at Georgia Tech on Monday) may have taken more out of Stanford than was hoped.
“We both played pretty late in the night; ours was a little (later),” said Forood. “So I think it was difficult all the way around. The conditions, obviously, with the weather and having to adjust and going to Atlanta and things like that make it a lot tougher to win, for sure.”
Thornqvist said his team – which in February won the ITA National Team Indoor Championship – has been as focused on the mental aspects of winning a championship as they have to the physical requirements.
“This is one of those moments,” he said. “This team has worked so hard all year, from when we met in August, we talked about playing on stages like this and what to expect. We trained for it. We tried to visualize what it would be like when you get close to the line and the characteristics you have to have in order to get through. What you saw today was the culmination of a lot of training and a lot of effort, and I’m really proud of them.”
The men’s and women’s all-tournament teams were announced at the conclusion of both matches. Male players honored included: William Blumberg and Robert Kelly (No. 1 doubles, North Carolina), Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and Alexander Ritschard (No. 2 doubles, Virginia), Collin Altamirano and J.C. Aragone (No. 3 doubles, Virginia), Mikael Torpegaard (No. 1 singles, Ohio State), Blumberg (No. 2 singles, North Carolina), Kelly (No. 3 singles, North Carolina), Altamirano (No. 4 singles, Virginia), Aragone (No. 5 singles, Virginia) and Blaine Boyden (No. 6 singles, North Carolina). Blumberg was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The women’s all-tournament team included: Anna Danilina and Ingrid Neel (No. 1 doubles, Florida), Brooke Austin and Kourtney Keegan (No. 2 doubles, Florida), Josie Kuhlman and Belinda Woolcock (No. 3 doubles, Florida), Woolcock (No. 1 singles, Florida), Melissa Lord (No. 2 singles, Stanford), Taylor Davidson (No. 3 singles, Stanford), Anna Danilina (No. 4 singles, Florida), Emily Arbuthnott (No. 5 singles, Stanford) and Kourtney Keegan (No. 6 singles, Florida). Woolcock was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
(Photo courtesy of Bill Kallenberg)