Nov. 10, 2013
NEW YORK -- Tennessee juniors Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese's bid for consecutive major doubles titles fell short Sunday in the finals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
With the loud home crowd cheering them on after every point from the balcony and the court-side bleachers, Columbia's Ashok Narayana and Max Schnur defeated the top-ranked Vols 6-3, 6-2 in the title match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Libietis and Reese had won the ITA All-American Championships in October and were trying to become the first UT team to win multiple major doubles titles.
The Vol duo had reached the final with a three-set semifinal victory over Illinois the previous morning, finding ways to win despite not playing their best tennis. In the finals, Columbia grabbed the momentum midway through the first set, and the Vols were unable to turn the tide.
"Yesterday, I was proud of how we banded together, but today, we kind of went our separate ways." Tennessee associate head coach Chris Woodruff said. "Especially playing indoors where conditions are fast and there's a big crowd, you have to stick together. If you don't, it can go down pretty quickly. That's what happened to us."
Narayana and Schnur broke Reese's serve at 3-3 in the first set to spark a big run for the Lion pair. Columbia reeled off seven consecutive games in the middle of the match, winning the first set 6-3 and taking a 3-0 lead in the second set.
At that point, the Vols could not manufacture the needed break points to get back on serve. They had three break point chances in the third game of the first set but did not see any more break points the rest of the match.
Woodruff said he was disappointed with the way the team handled the road crowd. The veteran UT team had played two full SEC seasons together in similar situations, though this was the first time the two had played in front of numerous opposing fans since May.
"I thought we'd gotten past that," Woodruff said. "We've played together a long time, we've seen a lot of crowds. Quite honestly, as a coach and an ex-player, I don't think about the crowd and environment. I certainly didn't do a good job preparing for that, and that's on me as a coach.
The top-ranked Vol pair ended the fall with a 12-2 record together.
The tournament marks the end of the fall season for the Vols. As a team, the Vols won one singles and two doubles titles, all of them at regional or national tournaments.
In addition to the ITA All-American doubles title, Reese captured the singles title at the USTA/ITA Ohio Valley Regional Championships. Brandon Fickey and Jarryd Chaplin won the USTA Clay Court Invitational last month.
The Vols' spring team season begins Jan. 18 with a home doubleheader against Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky.
"I think we're in a pretty good place, but we've got a lot of work to do," Woodruff said. "A lot's going to be on the guys with Thanksgiving break coming up and when they go home around December. They're going to have to work because once January starts, we kick off the ITA qualifying tournament. I was pleased with how some guys ended their fall season."