Feb. 14, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The Tennessee Volunteers punched their ticket to the ITA National Team Indoor Championship for the first time in 17 years.
After securing a close doubles point, the fifth-seeded Vols quickly built momentum in singles to defeat eighth-ranked Texas 4-1 in the semifinals Sunday at the Boar's Head Sports Club.
Junior John-Patrick Smith and freshman Rhyne Williams picked up wins on courts one and three, before freshman Tennys Sandgren shut the door on Texas with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Jean Andersen at the No. 4 position.
"Texas is a really good team, and they're going to be one of the teams to beat at the end of the year," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "For us to go out and play like we did against them, I thought we played with lots of confidence and the commitment we've been talking about the whole year. That's what it's going to take on every court to beat these teams and win championships."
The Vols (10-0) face two-time defending champions and host Virginia in the finals Monday at noon. Virginia defeated Ohio State 4-1 in its semifinal match.
Reaching the finals has been a long time coming for the Vols, who last made it to the championship match in 1993 when associate head coach Chris Woodruff was playing No. 1 for the team as a sophomore. Tennessee came close in 2009, reaching the semifinals before losing to Virginia.
"That just shows you how hard it is -- it's not easy to reach the finals," Winterbotham said. "Every year, there are great teams.
"We're certainly proud of that, but we're focused to go out tomorrow and see if we can win this championship. That was the goal coming into the event. Now that we've put ourselves in the championship match, we can see how we respond."
The doubles point proved to be a major factor in last year in the Vols' 4-3 loss to Texas in the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships. On Sunday, however, the Vols used the doubles game to their advantage.
Smith and Davey Sandgren, ranked seventh nationally, evened things up by defeating their third ranked opponent of the season. They won on break point 8-6 over No. 22 Kutrovsky and Josh Zevala.
Williams and junior Boris Conkic clinched the doubles point with an 8-5 victory. It was their 16th doubles victory of the season.
Texas briefly tied the match 1-1 when 38th-ranked Josh Zevala defeated senior Matt Brewer 6-3, 6-3 at the No. 5 position. Not long after, Williams put the Vols back ahead 2-1 with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over an emotional Kellen Damico.
Smith, ranked second nationally, earned his third victory over No. 5 Dimitar Kutrovsky. The previous two wins had come in straight sets, and Sunday was no different as Smith won 6-3, 6-4. It was the 93rd win of Smith's career and his 24th of the season.
Tennys Sandgren had suffered his first career dual-match loss in the quarterfinals against UCLA in two sets, but he bounced back against Andersen on Sunday. He took early leads in both sets, and with his teammates backing him, he clinched the match for the Vols.
"Tennys, coming in a freshman this semester, handling himself the way he did today was just fantastic," Winterbotham said. "It takes a little bit of time to understand what college tennis is all about, the tremendous fun of playing for the university and your teammates. I've really seen Tennys take that to heart. He really gave us some great energy today."
A live, interactive blog of Monday's championship match will be available at UTSports.com. Live scoring can be found at virginiasports.com.
#2 John-Patrick Smith, Tenn., def. #5 Dimitar Kutrovsky, Texas, 6-3, 6-4
#9 Ed Corrie, Texas, led #68 Boris Conkic, Tenn., 6-0, 3-4 DNF
#22 Rhyne Williams, Tenn., def. Kellen Damico, Texas, 6-2, 6-2
Tennys Sandgren, Tenn., def. Jean Andersen, Texas, 6-3, 6-3
#38 Josh Zevala, Texas, def. #52 Matt Brewer, Tenn., 6-3, 6-3
6. Matteo Fago, Tenn., led #104 Vasko Mladenov, Texas, 6-3, 5-4 DNF
#7 D. Sandgren/Smith, Tenn., def. #22 Kutrovsky/Zavala, Texas, 8-6
#12 Conkic/Williams, Tenn., def. Corrie/Damico, Texas, 8-5
Andersen/Whitehead, Texas, def. Fago/T. Sandgren, 8-6
Order of Finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (5,3,1,4).