URBANA — When Southern Cal began its streak of four national championships in a row, the Trojans beat Ohio State to win it all in 2009.
On Saturday at the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex, the Buckeyes upended USC in a 4-3 thriller to earn a berth in the Final Four while at the same time preventing the Trojans from claiming an NCAA-record fifth straight championship.
“It’s a little bit of consolation, that’s for sure, but I’d rather have the big trophy from 2009,” Ohio State coach Ty Tucker said. “It’s nice for the guys; the guys wanted this.”
As a Midwestern program, the fifth-seeded Buckeyes don’t believe they’ve always received the attention they deserve in dominating the Big Ten in recent years. Perhaps Saturday was a step in the right direction.
“We seem to win a lot of matches; the ranking keeps dropping,” Tucker said. “We always felt like we could compete with the best in the country and to be able to beat USC certainly proves it.”
The Buckeyes won the doubles point in a tiebreak at No. 2, but the Trojans won three of the first five singles matches to knot the score at 3.
All the attention focused on No. 2 singles, where Ohio State’s Peter Kobelt and USC’s Ray Sarminieto were playing. The 6-foot-7 Kobelt and his big serve withstood the pressure, sending the Buckeyes and their fans into wild celebration.
“I don’t think I could have handled it like I did today if I wasn’t in similar situations in the past,” Kobelt said. “I was in a similar situation in the national indoors and it didn’t work out, and I really made an effort after that in the practice matches and actual matches to focus on closing out matches, and if I was ever back in that situation, I would capitalize, and I ended up helping my team advance today.”
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USC remains tied with Stanford, which won four straight titles from 1995 to ’98, for the longest streak ever.
“It’s very disappointing, oh, yeah. I won’t sleep tonight. That’s competition. You can’t always expect to win every one,” USC coach Peter Smith said. “I get it. When you win, you get it, you understand how lucky you are, and we’ve had our good fortunes. When you don’t have good fortune, you’ve got to be able to understand it, and that’s what happened today. They’re well-deserving; they played to win and they won.”
Extending the streak, Smith said, was not a topic of conversation within the team this season.
“Every year is different. You try not to look at it like that. Other people talk about it. I try and always just leave the past behind, whether it’s good or bad at the start of the season,” Smith said.
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The last point of Ohio State’s win came at 7:59 p.m. Saturday. That’s about six hours earlier than the Friday sessions ended in the women’s round of 16.
Thanks to a five-hour marathon between Stanford and USC, which was followed up by a four-hour affair between Miami and Northwestern, Friday’s final match between UCLA and Michigan didn’t get started until 11:25 p.m.
That made for a long day for event manager Holly Stalcup. The UI director of event management got to Khan at 6:30 a.m. Friday and didn’t leave until 2:30 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s crazy to think it went that long with no weather delays. I was thankful that we had no rain. I’ll take a five-hour match rather than rain,” Stalcup said. “When you have that five-hour match you get a little behind. UCLA tried to help us; they played pretty quick. It’s kind of late for the student-athletes, but I’m glad we got all the matches in outside.”
Stalcup said there was nothing she or the rest of the staff could do to move the pace of play along. There was no talk of pushing matches to the next day, and there were no complaints from the understanding participants.
“The girls had to hang out in the hospitality room quite a bit,” Stalcup said. “I think they got some snacks and played some games. They were ready to go.”
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Public address announcer Mike Cation has been calling Illinois tennis matches since 2001. He’s on the mic for this year’s NCAA Championships, a dream come true for the Urbana native.
“You don’t get to announce something like this often; it’s amazing,” he said. “Gene Honda gets to do the Final Four every year. This is probably my one shot at a national championship, so I’m honored that they selected me.”
Cation, who also calls Illinois men’s basketball games, said he was informed the day after Illinois received its bid to host the NCAA Championships that he would handle the public address duties if he wished. He jumped at the chance.
“This is amazing. I had an agreement with my wife that we were going to stay in town until we had this national championship,” Cation said. “I’m here either way now because we just bought a house.”
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It’s been a heck of a week for Duke coach Ramsey Smith. Smith missed the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 match against Kentucky on Thursday, staying home in Durham, N.C., to be with his wife Kathy, who went into labor seven weeks early.
Kathy gave birth to a girl, Sofie, the couple’s first child.
“I thought she was going to be born during Wimbledon, and she didn’t even make it to the French (Open),” Smith said. “It was a little bit of a surprise, but everything went great. I was just happy to be there then and happy to be here now.”
Smith arrived in town Saturday morning in time for the Blue Devils’ Elite Eight match against the Bruins, which they lost 4-0.
“I slept in the hospital the last five nights,” he said. “I was meant to be there, and I was meant to be here today. Everything is good back home. Crazy week.”
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Prior to the quarterfinal match between Ohio State and USC, the 2003 NCAA championship Illinois team was honored on the north courts at Khan.
The team got together Friday night at a downtown bar to catch up and tell stories from the memorable season 10 years ago.
They picnicked north of the courts Saturday — and kept talking.
“These guys are family, and this is something nobody is going to be able to take from us. This is something we earned and worked hard for,” Amer Delic said. “This is a great feeling standing out here in front of all these other teams that are competing for a national title. When you’ve done it, you appreciate it a lot more.”
Delic is in town with Florida, where he is an assistant coach. The Gators have players who will compete in the individual draw next week.
“It’s going to be my last couple weeks doing that. I’m moving down to Austin, Texas, to start an academy down there.”