April 16, 2011
By Amanda Pruitt
ATHENS, Ga. -- For the second-time in as many years, Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham finished the regular season with a Gatorade shower.
It never gets old.
The fourth-ranked Vols secured their first back-to-back Southeastern Conference titles in program history Saturday with a 4-3 victory over fifth-ranked Georgia at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.
Tennessee (20-3, 10-1 SEC) tied for the regular-season title with Georgia (19-4, 10-1) thanks to capturing a close doubles point and getting straight-set victories from Boris Conkic, Rhyne Williams and John-Patrick Smith. With the win, the Vols earned the No. 1 seed in next week's SEC Tournament in Gainesville, Fla.
With the Vols leading 3-2, Smith clinched the title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over 16th-ranked Wil Spencer on court 1. He collapsed on the court as the players ran out to celebrate Tennessee's ninth SEC crown.
Always a tough place to play, Georgia announced its record crowd at more than 2,000 in attendance. Entering the afternoon, Tennessee had only won in Athens twice since 1990, but the last time was only year ago.
Winterbotham said the Vols were well-prepared for the atmosphere after beating Georgia 4-1 on the same courts in the semifinals of last season's NCAA Championships.
"Their fans know when to try to seize the momentum," said Winterbotham, now in his fifth year at Tennessee. "It's a very tough place to come in to win. the fact that we won here in the semifinals of the NCAAs and to win again today, it just speaks volumes for the toughness and quality of our guys."
The doubles competition between Tennessee and Georgia has been characteristiclaly close, and Saturday was no exception. Conkic and Smith had their 17-match winning streak snapped by Javier Garrpiz and Hernus Pieters 8-3 on court 1, but Williams and Tennys Sandgren evened up the score with an 8-5 win on court 2 over Sadio Doumbia and Ignacio Taboada.
Everything came down to court 3 where senior Matteo Fago and sophomore Edward Jones broke Drake Bernstein and Spencer to go up 7-6. Georgia foiled three match points, but Jones and Fago converted on the fourth to win it 8-6 and give the Vols a 1-0 lead.
In singles, Taboada tied up the match 1-1 when he defeated Jones 6-1, 6-2 on court 6, but Conkic put the Vols ahead a few minutes later with a quick 6-4, 6-2 victory over Bernstein while playing on court 4 for the first time since February.
Georgia tied the match again at 2-2 when Fago lost 6-4, 6-4 to Pieters, but the Vols still had their two top-ranked players on the court: 13th-ranked Smith on court 1 and fourth-ranked Williams on court 2.
Williams delivered a 6-3, 6-3 win over Garrapiz to push the Vols within one point of clinching, and Smith brought home the final point, beating Spencer to secure the Tennessee victory.
After the match was clinched, Sandgren lost the first SEC match of his entire career. He started the match 20-0 in conference play but lost to Taboada 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3). At the conclusion of the match, the Vols doused Winterbotham with a leftover Gatorade bucket on court 2.
Tennessee will play as the No. 1 seed in the SEC Tournament and will receive a first-round bye. The Vols will play their first match on Friday.
Tennessee 4, Georgia 3
1. #13 John-Patrick Smith (TENN) def. #16 Wil Spencer (UGA) 7-5, 6-3
2. #4 Rhyne Williams (TENN) def. #29 Javier Garrapiz (UGA) 6-3, 6-3
3. #69 Sadio Doumbia (UGA) def. #47 Tennys Sandgren (TENN) 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3)
4. Boris Conkic (TENN) def. Drake Bernstein (UGA) 6-4, 6-2
5. Hernus Pieters (UGA) def. #63 Matteo Fago (TENN) 6-4, 6-4
6. Ignacio Taboada (UGA) def. Ed Jones (TENN) 6-1, 6-2
1. #8 Javier Garrapiz/Hernus Pieters (UGA) def. #1 John-Patrick Smith/Boris Conkic (TENN) 8-3
2. #47 Tennys Sandgren/Rhyne Williams (TENN) def. #49 Sadio Doumbia/Ignacio Taboada (UGA) 8-5
3. Matteo Fago/Edward Jones (TENN) def. Drake Bernstein/Wil Spencer (UGA) 8-6
Order of finish: Doubles (1,2,3); Singles (6,4,5,2,1,3)