NCAA Finals: Virginia vs. North Carolina (men) & Florida vs. Stanford (women)
It was a crazy day in Athens, Ga., when the men and women held their semifinals of the 2017 NCAA Championships Monday.
The men were up first on the outdoor courts, and with No. 2 Virginia holding a team match point against No. 3 Ohio State as well as No. 13 Georgia putting together a memorable comeback bid vs. No. 9 North Carolina, the rain came. And it stuck around.
After a lengthy delay, the two semifinal contests wrapped up on the four indoors courts at UGA with Virginia (4-2 win) and North Carolina (4-3 win) providing heart-pounding victories to land spots in the finals.
The Tar Heels will be making their first trip to the NCAA Finals in school history. The Cavaliers barely defeated UNC in both meetings in 2017 by identical 4-3 margins, and they will be looking to claim their third straight NCAA title (and fourth in the last five seasons).
With rain in the forecast for the rest of the day, the women were moved inside with No. 1 Florida and No. Vanderbilt staying put in Athens and No. 3 Ohio State and No. 7 Stanford forced to drive out to Atlanta and Georgia Tech’s facility.
Florida avenged two losses to Vanderbilt in the regular season and SEC Tournament to take down the Commodores, 4-2, Monday night. The Gators are set to make their first appearance in the finals since 2012 when it shut out UCLA.
Close to midnight, Stanford and Ohio State went all of the way to a third-set tiebreaker on the final singles court until the Cardinal’s Taylor Davidson’s (Statesville, N.C) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) win wrapped up a 4-3 decision. That will now set up the 10th all-time meeting in the NCAA Finals between the Gators and Cardinal, two teams that competed in the College MatchDay series at the USTA National Campus this past spring.
Highlights from May 22
MEN – North Carolina vs. Georgia
Even though Georgia had the benefit of playing on its home courts and for its raucous fans, North Carolina had enormous support as well. The doubles point came down to No. 2 where UNC broke serve at 5-5 and Jack Murray (Beverly Hills, Mich.) held to capture the victory with partner Simon Soendergaard, giving UNC an early lead.
The Tar Heels reeled in the first singles result with a 6-3, 6-2 win by William Blumberg(Greenwich, Conn.). At the same time of court No. 2 shaking hands, courts 1 and 6 were in first-set breakers. As those were motoring along, Georgia finally got on the board on a straight-set triumph at No. 5 from Walker Duncan (Atlanta, Ga.). But UNC’s Robert Kelly (Chapel Hill, N.C.) fired in an ace on match point for his victory on court 3.
With a 3-1 cushion, UNC witnessed Georgia take second-set leads in the remaining three matches. Attention turned to court 4 where Soendergaard was up 6-4, 6-6 and 4-0 in the breaker. Georgia’s Jan Zielinski then strung together seven straight points to push the match to a third. Moments later, the Bulldogs’ Nathan Ponwith (Scottsdale, Ariz.) closed out his win at the No. 1 spot to make it 3-2 UNC.
Georgia fans kept getting louder, until the rain moved on to campus. The delay may have been long, but the fans swarmed the indoor courts for 5 p.m. when the match resumed. And the Bulldogs kept rolling when Zielinski finished off his three-set performance, leaving a spot in the finals up to the No. 6 position. With UGA’s Robert Loeb (Hilton Head, S.C.) serving in the third at 3-4, UNC’s Blaine Boyden (Raleigh, N.C.) broke on a no-ad point, then smashed an overhead winner on match point to start the dogpile and leave Georgia fans heartbroken.
MEN – Virginia vs. Ohio State
The Cavaliers and Buckeyes also split the first two doubles matches as the teams fought for the first point. It would reach a tiebreaker at No. 1, and Ohio State broke out to win the first six points en route to the 1-0 team advantage.
That score did not last long, with Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski (Charlotte, N.C.), Collin Altamirano (Sacramento, Calif.) and J.C. Aragone (Yorba Linda, Calif.) cruising to their respective victories and a 3-1 team lead.
At No. 6 and Virginia’s Henrik Wiersholm (Kirkland, Wash.) facing OSU’s Kyle Seelig (Hatfield, Pa.), Wiersholm went up a break in the second set and had three match points. His first attempt sailed into the net. At the exact same time, OSU’s Mikael Torpegaard was up 6-3 in the third-set tiebreaker against Virginia’s Alexander Ritschard.
That was when the rain started falling, with two courts holding match point. Eventually after the delay and teams moving inside at 5 p.m., Torpegaard needed just one point to hold on for his win. On the very next court, Wiersholm and Seelig were putting together a lengthy rally on their first point when play continued. When Seelig’s backhand clipped the net and softly landed on his side, the Cavaliers exploded.
WOMEN – Florida vs. Vanderbilt
On the four indoor courts at Georgia, the women’s semifinals got underway at 7 p.m. While Vanderbilt got the better of Florida in the two previous meetings this year, the Gators desired to put an end to that winning streak by rolling to the doubles point.
Just as UF flew through doubles, Vandy’s Sydney Campbell (Franklin, Tenn.) flew through her singles match at No. 2, topping Josie Kuhlman (Ponte Vedra, Fla.), 6-4, 6-1. The Commodores made it two in a row on a 7-5, 6-4 victory by Christina Rosca (Princeton, N.J.) over Ingrid Neel(Rochester, Minn.).
The No. 1 school in the nation halted Vandy’s run thanks to a three-set victory at No. 4 by Anna Danilina vs. Emma Kurtz (Atlanta, Ga.). Now tied at 2-2, Florida took control when Belinda Woolcock posted a bagel in the third set in her 6-7, 6-2, 6-0 defeat of Astra Sharma at No. 1.
Since there were only four courts available, the No. 5 and 6 singles matches went on late. Needing only one more point, UF’s Brooke Austin (Indianapolis, Ind.) delivered, breaking Georgina Sellyn’s serve on a no-ad point for a 6-2, 6-3 win at No. 5, locking up a bid to the finals for the Gators.
WOMEN – Ohio State vs. Stanford
Seventy miles away at Georgia Tech’s indoor facility at 8 p.m., Ohio State rolled over Stanford in doubles play with a 6-2 win at No. 2 and a 6-1 triumph at No. 3, giving the Buckeyes the first team point of the evening.
The Big Ten champs doubled its lead at the top of its lineup and from the No. 1 player in the country as Francesca Di Lorenzo (New Albany, Ohio) had a convincing 6-1, 6-0 decision vs.Caroline Doyle (San Francisco, Calif.).
The Buckeyes may have held a 2-0 advantage, but the Cardinal won the first set on the other five singles courts. Emily Arbuthnott capped off her 6-4 first-set win with a 6-3 showing in the second at No. 5 against Sandy Niehaus (Cincinnati, Ohio) to put Stanford on the scoreboard, thenMelissa Lord (Bloomfield, Conn.) handed Anna Sanford (Westerville, Ohio) a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 loss at No. 2 to even it at two apiece.
Having a dominant freshman campaign, Emma Higuchi (Los Angeles, Calif.) continued to shine for the Cardinal, putting them ahead 3-2 by way of a 6-3, 7-5 win at No. 6 over Ferny Angeles Paz. It was Higuchi’s 22nd straight victory (only Nicole Gibbs (25) and Kristie Ahn (24) have longer streaks for Stanford since 2010) and she is 33-3 overall in 2016-17.
Ohio State may have trailed 3-2, yet the Buckeyes were looking to serve out their respective matches on courts 3 and 4 as both Gabriella De Santis and Miho Kowase were up a break at 5-4 in the third set. Stanford had other ideas as Davidson at No. 3 and Caroline Lampl (Bluemont, Va.) at No. 4 both broke back, only to watch as De Santis and Kowase broke again for 6-5 on each court. After the clock hit 11:30 p.m., Kowase this time held serve for a 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory against Lampl, however De Santis could not as Davidson forced a third-set breaker for the right to go to the team finals. A back-and-forth affair gave way to Davidson grinding out the win as Stanford will now look to win the NCAA title for the second-straight season.
Inclement weather is unfortunately in the forecast for Tuesday as well. As of Monday evening, the men’s final is scheduled for 1 p.m. while the women’s final is set for 5 p.m.