Saturday may have been a long day but it was mostly definitely a great one with one thrilling match after another. The day started off with the two-time defending NCAA Champs Virginia facing some resistance but ultimately pulling away from No. 10 Texas and winning 4-1. The match of the tournament was taking place on the McWhorter Courts as No. 3 Ohio State outlasted No. 6 TCU 4-3 in a match that lasted 3 hours and 30 minutes. The late afternoon session turned into the late night session after a five-hour rain delay interrupted play during singles. Play would resume at 11 p.m. ET and surprisingly almost 500 of the announced crowd of 2324 returned to see the hosts Georgia upset No. 5 UCLA 4-2. The final match to finish was an All-ACC affair on McWhorter that saw No. 9 North Carolina upset the top seed Wake Forest 4-2.
Photo by Bill Kallenberg (CapturedInAction.com)
The rubber meets the road on Saturday afternoon in Athens with an extremely competitive schedule lined up. In the noon session you'll have the two-time defending champs Virginia taking on Texas and the other match could be the match of the tournament as No. 3 Ohio State takes on No. 6 TCU. In the late-afternoon session they'll be huge crowd on hand to see if Georgia can get past UCLA while a pair of ACC rivals, Wake Forest and North Carolina, will tangle on the back courts. The temperature is expected to be in the upper 80s and may hit 90 so it'll be interesting to see how the teams from outside of the south handle the elements.
I tell you there is nothing quite like the first two days at the NCAA Championship site because it's action-packed from sunrise to sunset with one good match after another. The day started off with gray skies and temperatures in the 70s but as the day progressed the sun made its way out and the temperatures shot up into the mid-80s (high humidity all day though). The morning slot saw Virginia roll over Florida on the Henry Feild Stadium courts while Texas overcame the loss of the doubles point to defeat Baylor on the McWhorter courts. Then in the noon slot it was Ohio State overcoming the loss of the doubles point to defeat Oklahoma 4-3 while TCU held off a hard charging Illinois 4-1. In the late afternoon window the hometown Georgia Bulldogs upset USC 4-3 while UCLA roughed up Texas A&M 4-1. The day was capped off with the top seed Wake Forest handling Stanford 4-0 while North Carolina defeated California 4-1. The announced crowd of 1,781 hit its peak during the Georgia/USC match with many sitting up high in the grandstand to stay out of the sun.
I'll go back through each match to give you some of the highlights though with two matches going on at the same it was hard to stay on top of both. I stuck with the Texas/Baylor match to start the day, then during the second slot I started with Ohio State/Oklahoma then watched most of singles in the TCU/Illinois match and then finished up back at the OSU/OU match. I watched just about the entire Georgia/USC match since UCLA/Texas A&M wasn't that close and then in the nightcap I spent most of my time watching UNC/Cal since the result of the Wake/Stanford match wasn't ever in doubt.
The opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament were completed last weekend so now it's time to look at the Sweet 16 matchups that will take place on Thursday in Athens, Georgia. There will two matches taking place at the same time with one on the main Henry Feild Stadium Courts and the other on the McWhorter Courts. The first matches start at 9 a.m. ET with the final two set to start at 7 p.m. ET though it wouldn't surprise me to see both of the 4 p.m. matches run late. Six of the eight matches will be rematches from the regular season so it'll be interesting to see how those teams do the second time around.
The men's second round wrapped up on Saturday so Sunday belonged to the women with nine regionals closing out the weekend after seven finished on Saturday. 15 of the 16 regional hosts advanced to Friday's Sweet 16 in Athens with the one upset taking place in Waco. Baylor had already defeated Texas A&M once this season (4-0) but on Sunday they'd find themselves playing from behind virtually the entire match. In that first meeting on March 22nd, Texas A&M was without its top player Rachel Pierson so having her in the lineup today obviously changed the whole complexion of the match.
Texas A&M struck first in doubles with a quick 6-0 win from Eva Paalma and Domenica Gonzalez at No. 2 but it looked like Baylor would take No. 1 after Blair Shankle and Karina Traxler went up a double break at 4-1. Texas A&M's Rachel Pierson and Rutuja Bhosale got one break back to make it 4-3 but Baylor held for 5-3. A&M then held, broke, and held to take a 6-5 lead.
Meanwhile over No. 3, Baylor's Theresa Van Zyl and Rhiann Newborn jumped out to a 2-0 lead but Texas A&M's Stefania Hristov and Saska Gavrilovska broke Van Zyl's serve and then held for 2-2. A&M would go up a break at 4-3 after breaking Van Zyl again but BU immediately broke back for 4-4 and then Newborn fought off two break points to hold for 5-4. After a Gavrilovska hold for 5-5, A&M would break Van Zyl for a third time to go up 6-5 and then Newborn served it out at love to take it 7-5.
For the most part Friday was a pretty dull day but Saturday delivered us some gems including two big comeback wins. I'll start with the upset of the day which came in Stillwater when Illinois rallied from 3-0 down to stun No. 11 seed Oklahoma State 4-3. The Cowboys took the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 3 and then each team took three opening sets in singles. Oklahoma State seniors Lucas Gerch and Lukas Finzelberg made quick work of their opponents at No. 3 and No. 6 to make it 3-0 but Illinois started winning all the close sets and got back in the match.
Aron Hiltzik put the Illini on the board with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 win at No. 2 which elicited a big fist pump from head coach Brad Dancer and then both Aleks Kovacevic and Zeke Clark would win their matches within seconds of each other to tie it up at 3-3. Clark came back from a 4-0 first set deficit to take the set 6-4 and then he won the second set in a tiebreak by a 10-8 score. Kovacevic had a chance to close his match out in straight sets but after failing to do so he won the third set 6-0.
Illinois junior Aleks Vukic, who missed yesterday's match against Drake, would get the clincher with a 7-6, 7-6 win over Julian Cash at No. 1. Illinois is headed back to the Sweet 16 for the first time in two years and in doing so that means that an unseeded team has advanced to the Sweet 16 every year since the NCAA field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999.
Former Virginia Tech Hokie Sebastien Jacques is making his way across the country, by foot, after not being able to walk across a room just a few years ago. Jacques played at Virginia Tech from 2007 to 2010 but during his senior year he had to quit playing due to a lack of energy. After graduating with a degree in marketing he returned home to Magog, Canada, and after seeing several doctor he was eventually diagnosed with a pineal cystic tumor in his brain which was the cause of the energy drain. The doctors in Canada determined the procedure was too risky and the health care system wouldn't cover the cost so Jacques ended up raising $80000 and had the surgery performed in California. The surgery was a success and Jacques returned to a normal life but he decided to embark on the cross-country walk to show people that it is possible to overcome obstacles in life. Virginia Tech had a write-up on Jacques a few days ago plus there are plenty of details on his website.
The NCAA Division II Men's Championship has reached the semifinals with #1 West Florida advancing after a 5-0 win over #4 Hawaii Pacific. UWF's top player, #4 Alex Peyrot, played doubles but sat out in singles which was interesting because in the round of 16 its #2 player, Gabriel Dias, did the same thing. Next up for UWF will be #23 Southwest Baptist after the Bearcats held off #16 Ferris State 5-4 with Raul Cabalero winning the deciding match 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(1) at #4 singles. The other semifinal match will be between #2 Barry and #3 Columbus State. Barry cruised past #18 Drury 5-1 with the Bucs taking two of three in doubles and winning every completed set in singles. Columbus State ran through #14 Azusa Pacific 5-1 with the Cougars sweeping all three doubles courts (count as a point each) and then getting two straight set wins at #3 and #4. APU got its lone point when Oliver Frank, D2s top ranked player, cruised to a 6-1, 6-3 win at #1.
Texas Tech came into this week knowing that it's only way to earn an NCAA Tournament berth was to win the conference tournament and amazingly they now sit just one match away from accomplishing that goal. On Saturday afternoon, Texas Tech picked up its third top 10 win in the last six days after coming back from 2-0 down to defeat No. 8 Oklahoma State 4-3. Oklahoma State jumped out to the early lead after winning a close doubles point and then Artur Dubinski made it 2-0 with a straight set win at No. 5. Texas Tech came back with three-set wins from Bjorn Thomson, Alex Sendegeya, and Connor Curry to go in front 3-2 before Oklahoma State's Lukas Finzelberg won in straight sets at No. 6. Texas Tech senior Jolan Cailleau would put the Red Raiders over the top with a match clinching 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 24 Julian Cash at No. 1.
A year ago Texas Tech won 28 matches and hosted a NCAA Regional but going into tonight's match against No. 4 Baylor the Red Raiders were winless in the Big 12 while having an overall record of just 10-14. Baylor was down a man with Jimmy Bendeck (#4 singles/#2 doubles) a late scratch so BU had to make adjustments to both its doubles and singles lineup. Texas Tech took advantage of the shift and picked up wins at No. 2 and No. 3 to take the early 1-0 lead. In singles play, Texas Tech would add five first sets and both Jolan Cailleau and Jackson Cobb would win in straight sets to make it 3-0. Baylor fought back to get splits at No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 while Texas Tech got a split at No. 2.
Baylor's Johannes Schretter, Max Tchoutakian, and Will Little would each pull through to tie the match at 3-3. Texas Tech senior Carlos DiLaura led Baylor freshman Constantin Frantzen 4-1 in the third at No. 5 but Frantzen took the next two to pull within 4-3. DiLaura broke back for 5-3 but Frantzen broke and held for 5-5 and two games later it went to a tiebreak. DiLaura went up 4-0 in the tiebreak but Frantzen rallied to tie it at 6-6. Frantzen had match points at 7-6 and 8-7 but DiLaura pulled it out 10-8.
The latest USTA Top 25 is out with both the Wake Forest men and Florida women remaining at No. 1 although their leads at the top are as slim as they've been. On the men's side Virginia is just two votes back at No. 2 while on the women's side Ohio State is only one vote behind Florida. There was no change in the men's top six though Baylor moved up two spots to No. 7 while USC dropped one spot to No. 8 and Texas dropped two spots to No. 9. Florida, South Carolina, and Oregon made the biggest jumps by coming up four spots each to No. 15, No. 18, and No. 21. Georgia Tech took the biggest tumble by dropping five spots to No. 19 after a tough loss at unranked Virginia Tech. Coincidently Columbia only dropped one spot to No. 19 after it fell to unranked Harvard.
The women's top four remained the same though Vanderbilt shot up six spots to No. 5 after its big win over Florida last Sunday. Pepperdine came up four spots to No. 8 after defeating Stanford and Texas A&M came up six spots to No. 18 after defeating Georgia in Athens. Texas Tech and Auburn each dropped four spots to No. 10 and No. 22 after T-Tech lost to unranked TCU while Auburn fell to Arkansas.
The Tulane men and TCU women were the only newcomers to this week's poll with each coming in at No. 25. The Kentucky men and LSU women were the only two to fall out after each lost a pair of matches over the weekend.