Dynasties aren’t built overnight.
But the Southern California men’s tennis team didn’t mind working through some twilight in its quest for a fourth consecutive NCAA championship.
Southern Cal and Virginia finished their title match at roughly 1 a.m. Wednesday – almost eight hours after it started – with the Trojans winning 4-2 to capture the NCAA men’s national championship for the fourth year in a row. The two teams played through a three-hour rain delay and eventually finished their match at 12:45 a.m. at the Lindsey Hopkins Indoor Courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
“I guess mission accomplished is the best way to put it,” Southern Cal senior Steve Johnson said. “We came back to win four. I don’t think there was ever a doubt in my mind that I was coming back. To do it with this group of guys, because they’re such a special group, is great. We were able to mature some of these freshmen, even though some days were worse than others. But today was one of the better days and these guys are going to carry on the legacy, so it’s been exciting to kind of watch them grow.”
The match came down to No. 5 singles, where Southern Cal’s Yannick Hanfmann and Virginia’s Justin Shane played to a third-set tiebreaker to end the marathon session. Hanfmann was down a service break and trailed Shane 5-4 in the third set but rallied to force a tiebreaker. Hanfmann won the tiebreaker 7-4 to clinch the championship for the Trojans.
“It’s not just me, the whole team is competing,” Hanfmann said. “Just seeing everybody playing so hard was an inspiration for me. I think that I’m lucky to finish that well.”
Virginia won the doubles on the outdoor courts. Shane and Julen Uriguen beat Emilio Gomez and Hanfmann 8-4 at No. 3 and Alex Domijan and Mitchell Frank beat Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento 8-5 at No. 2 with the two matches ending just minutes apart and just minutes before a heavy thunderstorm moved into Athens .
By the time the outdoor courts had been dried three hours later, another storm threatened to move in, so the singles matches were moved to the indoor courts. Because the indoor facility only has four courts, the Nos. 5 and 6 singles matches had to wait until the first four were finished before they could start. Tthe second thunderstorm never arrived but by then the singles matches had already started indoors.
“We felt good but we knew we had a lot of work to do after doubles,” Virginia coach Brian Boland said. “Credit to Southern California, they came out and did a great job and jumped on us early. I thought we came ready to play. We were well prepared when we came in here to play indoors. I think the mindsets were great and both teams left it out there and one team had to lose, unfortunately.”
Southern Cal had only lost one doubles point all season until Virginia took it in the championship match. After the weather delay, the Trojans regained the momentum in singles as top-ranked Johnson beat Jarmere Jenkins 6-3, 6-2 at No. 1, Ray Sarmiento beat Alex Domijan 6-4, 7-5 at No. 2 and Emilio Gonzalez beat Drew Courtney 6-4, 6-2 at No. 4. Virginia ’s Mitchell Frank beat Daniel Nguyen 6-3, 6-1 to force title to be decided in the final two matches.
Southern Cal led 3-2 with just No. 5 and No. 6 singles remaining on the courts. The match between Hanfmann and Shane had been a see-saw affair with Hanfmann taking the first set 6-4 and Shane blitzing through the second set 6-2. Hanfmann, who had clinched the National Indoors title for USC earlier this year, rallied to beat Shane and clinch Southern Cal’s fourth straight title 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4).
“For a freshman to do that is remarkable,” Southern Cal coach Peter Smith said. “It was remarkable. It was tough for us. The last two matches were going to be freshmen against a sophomore and a (junior). That was going to be tough. But tradition lives on. It’s unbelievable.”
Southern Cal has now ended Virginia’s season four years in a row en route to a national title. The Trojans beat the Cavaliers in the quarterfinals in 2009, semifinals in 2010 and finals in 2011 and 2012.
“I think tradition is a huge factor,” Smith said. “Getting over that hill is tough. I told Brian (Boland) that they’re going to do it someday. Tradition helps. It helps for me. It helps for them. Everybody has faith. They know I’ve done it before and that gives them a little more faith.”