Oklahoma, the new kids on the block on the elite level of men’s college tennis, put an early scare into Southern California Tuesday night in the NCAA championship match.
Ultimately, the Trojans’ experience on the big stage came up big again.
Top-seeded USC captured its fifth national title in six years with a come-from-behind 4-2 win against the No. 2 Sooners at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
The Trojans have won each of the last three NCAA championships held in Athens in 2010, 2012 and now 2014.
“We’re now going to play all our home matches at the University of Georgia,” USC coach Peter Smith joked to the crowd on the court afterwards.
Trailing 2-0, Southern California (32-3) got wins on the singles courts from junior Yannick Hanfmann and senior Ray Sarmiento and USC closed out another title on the lower courts known as the Pit.
Max de Vroome got the clincher on court four rallying after dropping the first set to take a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.
His backhand volley winner brought his teammates onto the court and they jumped around in joy.
The Sooners (28-4) had never been in the championship match before. Southern California won its 21st team title and slipped into national title T-shirts for the trophy ceremony.
“I don’t think anyone would have said we’re going to win the NCAAs in September,” Smith said of a team that lost in the quarterfinals last season. “It’s a credit to them how hard they worked. …We’ve had so many great players. It’s amazing to now see a new group stepping up in Yannick and Ray and Max and the whole team really.”
Oklahoma head coach John Roddick and assistant coach and Athens native Bo Hodge still had an unprecedented run for the program at their old stomping grounds.
They are former Georgia All-Americans.
“USC played a tremendous match and they competed great,” Roddick said. “They really deserved it. We played well and we had chances. They overcame some tough situations, especially early, and my hat goes off to them.”
Georgia coach Manuel Diaz, watching from the bleachers, said after Oklahoma won the doubles point: “John’s built a top-notch program there. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s gone all over the world recruiting, he’s got a huge backing from the university and boosters and has just really been committed. Bo has done an extremely good job of helping him along. It’s just a lot of fun seeing those guys playing for a national championship.”
Smith offered praise for the job Oklahoma’s coaches did.
“What you guys did is unheard of,” he told them in the postmatch comments on court. “You went from nowhere to the pinnacle and it’s because of your hard work.”
Oklahoma had John’s younger brother, former tennis star Andy Roddick and his supermodel wife Brooklyn Decker in its corner.
The USC Pep Band backed the Trojans for the finals match. They usually arrive for the semifinals, but were on the Arsenio Hall Show Monday night.
Oklahoma’s singles lineup has four players from overseas: No. 1 Guillermo Alcorta and No. 2 Axel Alvarez hail from Spain, No. 4 Andrew Harris is an Aussie and No. 6 Alex Ghilea is from Romania.
Diaz said he spoke to Roddick and Hodge just about every day since the Bulldogs were eliminated in the round of 16.
“Mostly helping them with tickets,” he said laughing.
Oklahoma went 12-10 overall and 1-5 in Big 12 play the season and had not reached the NCAAs since 2004 before Roddick arrived.
“It’s a process and we’re probably ahead of schedule to be here,” Roddick said. “We’re going to keep doing the same things. We’re not going to change anything.”
Oklahoma got the doubles point when Ghilea and Nick Papac won 8-7(2) on court 3 against de Vroome and Eric Johnson and Alcorta and Andrew Harris prevailed over Connor Farren and Roberto Quiroz on court 2.
The lead became 2-0 when Dane Webb won on court 3 against Quiroz 6-1, 6-3, but the Trojans notched its first singles win when the nation’s No. 10 ranked player Hanfmann won in straight sets over No. 5 ranked Alcorta 7-5, 6-2 on court one.
Then the momentum changed in a big way for the Trojans when Sarmiento pulled out a 6-4, 7-6(4) victory against Alvarez on court 2 despite trailing 4-1 in the first set.
Oklahoma’s Austin Siegel kept hanging around and hanging around on court five with USC’s Eric Johnson before the Trojans’ junior from San Jose finally finished him off 6-1 7-6(2).
All that was left was the clincher and yet another USC national title.
“Walking on these courts is just comfortable for us,” Sarmiento said. “Coming back here two years ago, there’s just so many memories. You walk onto these courts and it’s like you’re playing at home.”