Wake Forest, Stanford emerge as
2018 NCAA Champions
Arthur Kapetanakis | May 23, 2018
The Wake Forest men and Stanford women are both 2018 NCAA champions, but the similarities between their respective programs may end with that, historically speaking.
For the Demon Deacons, it was the first NCAA title in program history for a school that had yet to reach a final four prior to this season. For the Cardinal, the most successful women’s tennis program in NCAA history, it was title No. 19 and its second in three years.
While host Wake Forest is new to the trophy podium, the victory is a culmination of its recent, steady rise to prominence. The Winston-Salem outfit had advanced past the NCAA second round just twice in program history (2007, 2009) prior to its recent run of tournament success, as Sweet 16 appearances in 2015 and 2016 progressed to a program-first quarterfinal appearance last year.ADVERTISEMENT
That all led up to this season’s tournament, where the combination of a No. 1 seed and home-court advantage paved the way for even more success.
Tuesday, in front of a packed home crowd, the Demon Deacons delivered, cashing in with a 4-2 final victory over No. 3 Ohio State.
“That atmosphere was incredible,” said Head Coach Tony Bresky. “In tennis, you go play lower-level pro tournaments, Futures and Challengers, even some ATP events... you don’t get a crowd anything like that. It was like a Davis Cup match. It means more to win at home in front of our fans.”
A pair of 7-5 victories gave the hosts the crucial doubles point, and after each school picked up two comfortable singles wins, all eyes shifted to the No. 1 and No. 4 matchups.
With Wake Forest clinging to a 3-2 overall advantage, the Demon Deacons were one match away from making history.
At the No. 1 spot, Wake Forest’s Borna Gojo was down a set against Mikael Torpegaard. On Court 4, Wake’s Bar Botzer took the first set against John McNally but quickly found himself behind, 0-3, and later, 2-5, in set two.
With his opponent closing in on a momentum-shifting second-set victory that could have turned the entire contest, Botzer had an answer.
“Things started to change a little bit at 3-0,” he said. “I was fighting more and believing. I was 3-0 down and believed I was going to win the set.”
From 2-5, Botzer ripped off five consecutive games to clinch the match and the title for his school. At the conclusion of his match, Gojo was locked in a second-set tiebreak that remained unfinished.
It was even tenser on the women’s side, as 2017 finalist Stanford edged top-seeded Vanderbilt, 4-3.
The Commodores got on the board first with the doubles point, but Stanford hit back with three straight-set singles wins to take a 3-2 overall lead. Then, in the first three-setter of the day, Amanda Meyer of Vanderbilt recovered from a set down to clinch the No. 4 flight and level the match at 3-3.
The national championship would come down to Court 2, where Stanford’s Melissa Lord was midway through a third set of her own against Fernanda Contreras. Lord pulled ahead, 5-3, and had a match point at deuce in the ensuing game, but Contreras stood strong to keep hope alive.
Contreras, the highest-ranked singles player on either team at No. 10 in the nation, leveled at 5-5 but then fell behind 0-40 on Lord’s serve. She clawed back to deuce but lost the sudden-death point, as her opponent reclaimed the lead.
Seizing the momentum, Lord broke serve to secure the victory for herself and her team.
“I’m just so proud of myself and my coaches,” she beamed. “I really wanted this for our team. It’s been such a long and hard season, and we really deserved it.”
Lord now holds a perfect 15-0 record in singles play across three NCAA tournaments. In her freshman year in 2016, she also won a three-setter in the final, though it was not the clinching match on that occasion against Oklahoma State.
By winning the title as the No. 15 seed, the Cardinal matches its own record for the lowest-ever seed to win the NCAA title, set by that 2016 team. In Lord’s three years with the program, Stanford now has two NCAA titles and one final appearance.
Never satisfied, the Californians will return their full starting lineup for the 2018-19 season, as they seek to win back-to-back titles for the first time since their three-peat from 2004-06.
For the Demon Deacons, sights are set on a dynasty of their own.
After their trophy-winning performances, both programs were ranked No. 1 in the year-end USTA College Tennis Top 25 poll, released earlier today.
(Photo courtesy of Wake Forest University)