Southern California schools were forces to be reckoned with at the 2018 Tennis On Campus National Championship in Orlando. USTA Southern California sent four teams to the event, each of them earning incredible wins during the tournament and making names for themselves at the national level. In the end, three Southern California teams finished in the top eight of the country – a feat not many other sections have ever achieved.
UC San Diego finished best of the SoCal teams – 4th in the country – after a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals to eventual National Champions Ohio State. A veteran Triton squad earned their bid to Nationals after finishing third at the Section Championship in San Diego back in February. Heading into the tournament, the Tritons looked relaxed yet confident, which might have been their key to success.
On Day 1, UC San Diego was listed as the second seed in Pool “O”. They drew Iowa State and University of Delaware before getting their chance to topple #1 Wisconsin. While the Tritons had not dropped a set through their first two matches of the day, they were wise not to underestimate Wisconsin, the Midwest Section champions. Women’s doubles launched into the match with a dominant win and men’s doubles were able to get the Tritons six more games after a slow start in their set. The team struggled in men’s and women’s singles against two Badger backboards, but maintained a slight lead heading into mixed doubles. That’s when UC San Diego took control of the match. Aggressive net play from Senior Ryan Lee and powerful serves from Mina Vukovic put UC San Diego into the Gold Bracket.
On Friday, UCSD faced University of Pennsylvania, and pulled out a 24-16 win. The match standout was JP Boyd, who posted six unanswered games for the Tritons.
It’s never easy to play a Southern California team at the National Championship, but due to the strength of SoCal teams and their deep runs in the tournament, it happens almost every year. That’s what happened when UCSD and Cal Poly SLO faced off in a critical match, with a semifinal berth in the balance.
UCSD and Cal Poly both wanted the win and entered the match fired up. San Diego started slow in doubles, but managed to pull out victories in both men’s and women’s doubles with big comebacks. Two UCSD women’s singles players got their crack at Cal Poly, but only earned one game all together. Boyd put up another 6-0 win in men’s singles, which helped neutralize the loss on the women’s side. The Tritons had a cushion going into mixed doubles, and sealed the deal, thrusting them into the semifinals against Ohio State.
Saturday morning was tense. Everyone knew what was at stake. Ohio State had won the Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational earlier that year, so they were ready for battle. UCSD started slow, but kept the doubles matches competitive, losing 4-6 and 5-6. The Tritons faced another backboard in men’s singles and dropped the set 4-6. The match MVP was Smita Sabada, who played incredible tennis against a worthy adversary. She nabbed a 6-4 win, keeping the Tritons within striking distance. Dynamic duo of Ryan and Mina entered into mixed doubles down just three games. A 6-2 win in mixed doubles would win them the match. UCSD had the momentum and was up 3-1 on the first changeover, but Ohio State was not going down easy. The match went back and forth with switches in aggression and dominance, both teams fighting to remain in the hunt for TOC title.
UCSD won the set in a tiebreak, taking the match into overtime. They needed just two consecutive games to take the match to a Super Tiebreaker. They got one of those games, but ended up falling just a few points short. Ohio State went on to play UNC in the championship final and made easy work of the Tar Heels late Saturday night.
The Tritons finished in fourth place overall.
UCLA earned their bid to the National Championship as the Southern California Section Championship winners. They traveled to Orlando this year with most of the same squad from their 2017 run at Nationals – a run that earned them third place overall. Heading into 2018, the Bruins had their eyes on the number 1 spot.
They entered into pool play on Thursday as the top seed in Pool B. They faced Colorado State, University of Rhode Island, and University of Texas at Austin. The Bruins cruised through their first two matches of
the day, but to earn their place into the Gold Bracket, they had to beat a confident Texas team who was ready to battle. The match was close, but the Bruins were up going into mixed doubles. Texas fought back and won the mixed doubles set, sending the match into Overtime. Texas had to win three consecutive games to bring the match to a final Super Tiebreaker, and they looked like they had enough momentum to get it done. UCLA gave up one shaky game in Overtime, but ultimately cut Texas out of the Gold Bracket. Bruins won 26-23.
Friday, UCLA faced Maryland in the first round of the Gold Bracket. Elyse Pham was the MVP of the match. The Bruins subbed Elyse in for women’s singles, and she somehow managed to come back from match points at 3-5 to win the set 6-5 in a tiebreaker. The Bruins never felt threatened though, and earned a comfortable win of 26-19.
Their next opponents, however, were not going to roll over. The UNC Chapel Hill team is no stranger to the National Championship and the Tar Heels were just as hungry for the National Title as the Bruins. Every set was close, winning or losing by one or two games. Heading into mixed doubles, UCLA was down one game. They faced a fierce mixed doubles team and ended up losing the set, sending them into a playoff for 5th place.
UCLA took out Cornell Friday afternoon and faced Midwest Section runners up Illinois Saturday morning. The Illini wanted 5th place and put up a serious fight against the Bruins who mixed things up in their line-up giving graduating seniors a chance to play for their last TOC match of their career. In the end, the Bruins got the “W” after a close mixed doubles set to a team who hadn’t lost during the whole tournament. UCLA finished 5th in the nation.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo finished 2nd at the Section Championship and was excited for play to start in Orlando. The team had a mix of veteran TOC players and some fresh blood who proved to be serious assets during the tournament.
In pool play, Cal Poly faced Northeastern, Rice, and University of Maryland Baltimore County. They cruised through all three matches and found themselves in the Gold Bracket on Friday morning playing against the 2016 National Champion Auburn. Many credited Auburn’s 2016 victory to the strength of one former varsity player who was dominant in women’s singles and mixed doubles through the tournament. By the end of day 1, everyone at the tournament site knew this girl was back, and that she brought her little sister to the team with her.
The Mustangs knew what they were up against, both with Auburn and their history at the Championship. For the past three years, Cal Poly had lost in the first round of the Gold Bracket, but the Mustangs were determined to break the streak. President Alex Braksator loaded the team up with Starbucks early Saturday morning, so the Mustangs started the match caffeinated and ready. Women’s doubles pulled out a quick 6-0 win. The team struggled in Men’s Doubles, but turned things around after a mid-set substitution. The match standout was Jenna Bloom, who played women’s singles against the feared Auburn player. She played hard and fast from the baseline, and earned a 6-1 win. Adam Langevin played an arduous match in men’s singles, but was able to add six games to the Mustangs’ lead. Cal Poly closed the door on Auburn in a fiery set of mixed doubles, breaking the three year curse in the Gold Bracket.
Their next opponent was UCSD, which the team ended up losing in a hard-fought battle. They played Illinois and Cornell in the Northern portion of the Gold Bracket backdraw. Cal Poly went into these matches focusing on the team camaraderie and allowing all players to compete in the final matches. The Mustangs finished 8th in the country.
San Diego State earned their bid to the National Championship at the 2017 Spring Invitational. While the Aztecs were not playing with the complete roster from the Spring Invite, this group of Aztecs did not disappoint. Since the team did not earn a bid to the championship from their finish at the Section championship, the Aztecs were placed as the number 4 team in their pool. In their first match of the tournament – an early 8 a.m. match – the Aztecs played the number one team in their pool Columbia. They ended up winning this match in a Super Tiebreaker. They then had to face the eventual national champions Ohio State, where they put up a good fight, but lost 16-24. They finished out pool play against Colorado School of the Mines, putting the Aztecs into the Silver Bracket.
First up, the not to be underestimated 2017 Gold Bracket semifinalists Minnesota. Not a problem. Aztecs win 26-18. In the quarterfinals, they faced a rowdy team from Rutgers and won without dropping a set. In the semifinals, Wisconsin was the team’s next victim. It was a much tighter match, but the team came together and pulled out a 26-24 win. In the final, San Diego State battled against Florida, but one player from the Gators proved to be too much in men’s singles and mixed doubles. SDSU fell to Florida in the final of the Silver Bracket, but finished as the 18th best school in the nation.
In the end, the Southern California teams left Orlando with a lot to be proud of. The tennis was incredibly memorable, but it’s the time spent with their teammates that TOC SoCal players will take with them forever.
For more information on the USTA’s Tennis On Campus National Championship, click here.