The host family for the Oklahoma men’s tennis team for the NCAA championships is heavily invested in how the Sooners fare.
The parents of assistant coach and Athens native Bo Hodge served up some chicken and pasta for a dinner after the team arrived in town.
“They made some desserts,” Hodge said of his parents Mark and Suzette. “We wouldn’t let the guys eat it.”
Oklahoma needed to be in championship form.
The No. 2 Sooners are almost there after advancing to Tuesday’s finals, where they will play top-seed Southern California at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex at 5 p.m.
Oklahoma reached its first championship match in dramatic fashion Monday night by pulling out a pair of third-set tiebreakers to beat No. 6 UCLA, 4-2. USC beat defending national champion Virginia 5-1.
Host Georgia isn’t playing in the national title match, but two former UGA All-Americans could give the locals a rooting interest.
Fifth-year Oklahoma head coach John Roddick and Hodge played for coach Manuel Diaz.
“We just try to steer the ship in the right direction,” Roddick said. “They’re the ones that have to go out and execute and play. We try to give them confidence and the game plans.”
Hodge’s wife and sister are in town this week, too. His father is a partner in the law firm Fortson, Bentley and Griffin and was an offensive captain as a tight end for Georgia in 1978.
Hodge, who led Athens Academy to a 1998 state tennis title and reached the NCAA doubles finals in 2004 with John Isner, said he talked gameplan with Diaz before Oklahoma’s quarterfinal match against North Carolina.
“I was hoping Georgia would beat North Carolina,” Hodge said. “I thought it would be really fun to play them here.”
John’s younger brother, retired tennis star and former U.S. Open winner Andy Roddick, was among those watching Monday night and will be on hand for the championship, John said. He’s seen the Sooners play in person a good bit since retiring.
“He called me last night and said am I going to be a distraction if I come,” John said. “I said, ‘No, the guys are used to you for the most part, so come on. The guys love having him here to cheer on. He’s a guy who would have loved to have played college tennis and he knows that and says that all the time. It wasn’t in his cards probably.”
John Roddick was a team captain for the NCAA runners-up in 1998 in Athens and an assistant at UGA in 2001 when the Bulldogs beat Tennessee in Athens when Hodge was on the team.
“This one is probably the most stressful and joyous one because of the way it finished,” Roddick said. “It’s pretty special.”
Sooners No. 6 singles player Alex Ghilea and No. 1 Guillermo Alcorta won about three minutes apart on the McWhorter Courts.
Ghilea rallied from 2-5 in the third set to pull out a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(5) win over Karue Sell and Alcorta clinched with a 0-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) victory over Clay Thompson
“It’s a shame anyone had to lose that match,” Roddick said. “We always talk about playing the big points aggressive. Even when we lost them, we did. When you do that, good things happen.”
Oklahoma (28-3) won the doubles point, usually a good omen for a team that is now 20-1 when winning that.
This one was tight.
The Bruins took the first set in four of the six singles matches and tied the score at 1 when Adrien Puget beat Austin Siegel 6-2, 6-3 on Court 5.
The Sooners regained the lead shortly after when Axel Alvarez turned back Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-2 on Court 2 in matchup of top-10 ranked players.
UCLA answered on Court 3 when Mackenzie McDonald slid by Dane Webb 6-4, 6-4, setting up the exciting finish.
Now, the Sooners will gear up for USC (31-3), which is playing in the finals for the fifth time in six years after winning four straight from 2009-12.
“It’s a battle to try to catch up with those teams,” Roddick said. “I’ve been a part of one of those programs. …As the underdog, we feel like we have to fight and scrap and we’re going to do the same thing. That’s how Georgia made it and it’s how we’re going to make it.”
In a matchup of the last two national champions, USC prevailed over the No. 4 Cavaliers.
“The heart that my team showed today, you know, at a point you just sit back and appreciate how hard these guys fight,” USC coach Peter Smith said.
The Trojans moved ahead after gaining the doubles points with victories on Court 2 from Connor Farren and Roberto Quiroz 8-5 and then on Court 3, where Max de Vroome and Eric Johnson shared a big hug after an 8-7(5) victory against Ryan Shane and Mitchell Frank.
Virginia evened the match when Shane won in straight sets against Roberto Quiroz 6-1, 6-4, on Court 3.
The Trojans’ Eric Johnson closed out a 6-4, 7-5 win on Court 5 against Justin Shane, Ryan’s brother. Ray Sarmiento beat Frank 6-4, 7-5 and then Yannick Hanfmann won on Court 1 against Alex Domijan 4-6, 7-6(10), 6-4 to clinch and USC also got a point when Michael Grant’s victory on Court 6 concluded soon after for a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win against J.C. Aragone.
“They really became men today,” Smith said. “They really stepped up and won in a big spotlight.”