April 17, 2010
Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham had never experienced a Gatorade shower until Saturday. But there's a first time for everything.
The second-ranked Volunteers capped an undefeated SEC season with a 6-1 victory over Georgia at Barksdale Stadium to win the regular-season conference title for the first time since 2000.
Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) won the doubles point and then picked up straight-set victories from junior John-Patrick Smith and freshman Rhyne Williams before junior Matteo Fago clinched the match for the Vols in a tiebreaker.
Not long after Fago secured the match at the No. 5 singles position, the Vols snuck behind Winterbotham and doused him with a celebratory full cooler of water.
"I'm glad it was a warm day," said Winterbotham, now in his fourth season at Tennessee. "I'd have been running if I'd known it was coming."
With the victory, the Vols was also awarded the No. 1 seed in the SEC Championships, which start Wednesday in Lexington, Ky. Georgia (17-6, 9-2) fell to the third seed in the tournament behind Florida, which won its finale 6-1 against South Carolina.
"That was one of the first goals we had this season, and it feels great to achieve it," Fago said. "Now we have to move on to our next goal, which is to win an SEC Championship."
Tennessee had not completed an SEC schedule undefeated since 1990, a season in which the Vols went 34-1 and reached the NCAA Championship before losing to Stanford. The Vols have now won eight SEC titles.
On Saturday, the Vols managed to put away the doubles point, despite a 9-8 tiebreaker loss by Smith and senior Davey Sandgren at the No. 1 position.
Fago and freshman Edward Jones defeated Drake Bernstein and Will Oliver 8-3 on court 3. Williams and junior Boris Conkic took some time to complete their match on court 2 and came away with an 8-4 victory over Jamie Hunt and Christian Vitulli. Williams and Conkic, ranked seventh nationally, have now won 29 matches this season.
Tennessee continued to roll once singles started, taking the first set on five of six courts.
Smith was the first off the court for the Vols. In his opening match as the No. 1-ranked singles player in the country, Smith defeated No. 77 Nate Schnugg 6-2, 6-2 to improve to 35-6.
Williams nearly pulled off a shutout on his court, defeating Jamie Hunt 6-0, 6-1 on court 3 to put the Vols ahead 3-0. The Knoxville native is not far behind Smith in wins; he now has 33 on the season.
Several Vols were nearing the end of their matches, but Fago secured the victory for the Vols by defeating Christian Vitulli 6-2, 7-6.Vitulli hit a wide shot on match point, and the Vols stormed court 5 to celebrate.
"When I first came here, the team wasn't great yet," said Fago, a native of Ceprano, Italy. "We had to pretty much build the team, and now it feels great. We are the champions now. We've worked so hard for it, and now we've got something."
Tennessee and Georgia played out the match after the Vols took the 4-0 lead. Davey Sandgren continued his undefeated run in the SEC since joining the singles lineup, winning 6-3, 7-6 over Will Oliver 6-3, 7-6.
Freshman Tennys Sandgren secured an undefeated freshman season in the SEC. He improved to 10-0 with a 6-4, 6-7, 1-0 (11) victory over Drake Bernstein on court 4.
Conkic took the only loss for the Vols, falling to Javier Garrapiz 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 on court 2. It was a rematch of the SEC Indoor Championship, which Conkic won in straight sets.
1. #1 John-Patrick Smith (UT) def. #77 Nate Schnugg (UGA) 6-2, 6-2
2. #26 Javier Garrapiz (UGA) def. #40 Boris Conkic (UT) 6-2, 0-6, 7-6
3. #47 Rhyne Williams (UT) def. Jamie Hunt (UGA) 6-0, 6-1
4. #105 Tennys Sandgren (UT) def. Drake Bernstein (UGA) 6-4, 6-7, 1-0 (13-11)
5. #112 Matteo Fago (UT) def. Christian Vitulli (UGA) 6-2, 7-6
6. Davey Sandgren (UT) def. Will Oliver (UGA) 6-3, 7-6
1. #70 Javier Garrapiz/Nate Schnugg (UGA) def. #2 John-Patrick Smith/Davey Sandgren (UT) 9-8
2. #7 Boris Conkic/Rhyne Williams (UT) def. Jamie Hunt/Christian Vitulli (UGA) 8-4
3. Edward Jones/Matteo Fago (UT) def. Drake Bernstein/Will Oliver (UGA) 8-3
Order of finish: Doubles (3,1,2); Singles (1,3,5,6,4,2)