Courtesy: USC Athletics
STANFORD, CALIF. - STANFORD, CALIF. - The No. 2 USC men's tennis team pulled off yet another championship upset win and tacked up its third straight NCAA title with an incredibly gutsy and tense 4-3 victory over top-seeded and undefeated Virginia. The Trojans got ahead 3-0 in the match, but the remaining matches were roiled in three-setters. Coming through with the championship clincher -- for the second year in a row -- was junior Daniel Nguyen, who pulled off a 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 thriller to wrap up the Trojans' win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday afternoon at Stanford's Taube Tennis Stadium. USC wraps up 2011 with a 27-2 overall record.
The Trojans were heaving an 18-match win streak into the title match, where No. 2 USC was pitted against No. 1 Virginia, which carried a 33-0 record into the final. But the top seeds, for the third straight season, ran into another determined USC squad. This time the teams would clash in the title match, and it was an all-out gut-wrenching battle. When the dust settled, Daniel Nguyen's clincher on court three had locked in USC for a third straight NCAA championship - the program's 19th overall NCAA men's tennis championship and the university's 115th national team title. With the win, men's tennis matches a three-in-a-row championship precedent set most recently at Troy by men's water polo, which won its third straight with the 2010 crown. The last men's tennis team to take three in a row was Stanford, which won four straight titles from 1995-98.
Doubles play unfolded with tight matches on the outside courts while USC's Emilio Gomez and Steve Johnsonpadded their lead on court two with a 3-0 advantage and got up an extra break soon after for a comfy 6-2 lead that soon ballooned to an 8-2 victory for the Trojans over Virginia's Jenkins/Uriguen. Things stayed snarled in close quarters on court one, while court three opened up to a Trojan advantage as Daniel Nguyen and Ray Sarmiento created some space with a couple breaks for a lead that they would hold onto. Their 8-4 win over Domijan/Singh at the No. 3 spot provided an emotional lift for USC and also tacked up a big first point in the match for the Trojans. With the 1-0 lead in USC's pocket, action was suspended on court one with the teams on serve and UVA's #2 Courtney/Shabaz up 8-7 on USC's #22 Jaak Poldma and JT Sundling.
The singles story didn't begin as dramatically as it would end, by any means. Emilio Gomez tromped his way past Justin Shane at the No. 5 position with a 6-0, 6-3 win that lifted USC ahead 2-0. The Trojans would claim the first set on all courts but No. 6. The last to finish up his first set was USC's #1 Steve Johnson, who was going toe-to-toe with Virginia's #5 Michael Shabaz on court one. Johnson caught fire in the first-set tiebreak, however, and rolled out to the win. His head of steam continued in the second set, as he broke the see-saw battle by breaking Shabaz in the first game of the second, and Johnson would power his was to USC's third point of the day in tacking up a 7-6 (2), 6-3 victory that made it 3-0.
But the early Trojan push to pin up points on the scoreboard would be answered by a string of Virginia victories. The Cavaliers closed the gap to 3-3 as three-set comebacks wound up in the hands of Virginia players. The first came on court two, where #2 Alex Domijan picked up the pace to come back for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over USC's #38 senior Jaak Poldma. Three other matches were still entirely up in the air, with USC still looking for the clincher. Virginis stole away another opportunity for an early Trojan victory when Peter Lucassen was dealt a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 loss by UVA's Julen Uriguen on court six. Freshman Ray Sarmiento would also see his Cavalier opponent get moving in the third set, as Virginia's #56 Jarmere Jenkins pushed ahead of #47 Sarmiento for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 decision that locked up the match 3-3 and put all eyes on Daniel Nguyen's court three war with #34 Sanam Singh.
Nguyen had been in that championship-clinching match before. Last year, as a sophomore, his focus on his No. 4 singles match was such that he didn't realize at first that he had clinched USC's second straight NCAA title. This time, it was resoundingly apparent that his match was the decider. Nguyen was up 5-2 in the third set when the stands by his court filled and became even louder than before. He missed out on his first match point opportunity, and Singh clawed to 5-3. At the service line next, Nguyen had another chance pass as the score moved to 5-4. But with all the pressure still heaped decidedly on Singh's shoulders, Nguyen remained calm and secure. Up 15-0 in the game and receiving, Nguyen laid out for a forehand and got it. Flat on the ground, Nguyen saw Singh's return clip the top of the net and bounce wide, and Nguyen was in the driver's seat. The junior won three of the next four points, with the all-important winner coming on a long rally the Nguyen capped off with a volley to open space for USC's 20th straight dual-match win and the Trojans' third straight national championship.
Johnson, Nguyen and Poldma are now set to start up NCAA Singles competition tomorrow (May 25). Poldma and Sundling will team up in doubles along with Johnson and Sarmiento beginning May 26.
NCAA All-Tournament Team
No. 1 Singles: Steve Johnson, USC
No. 2 Singles: Alex Domijan, Virginia
No. 3 Singles: Sanam Singh, Virginia
No. 4 Singles: Jamere Jenkins, Virginia
No. 5 Singles: Emilio Gomez, USC
No. 6 Singles: Balazs Novak, Ohio State
No. 1 Doubles: Jaak Poldma / JT Sundling, USC
No. 2 Doubles: Chase Buchanan/Shuhei Uzawa, Ohio State
No. 3 Doubles: Balazs Novak/Blaz Rola, Ohio State
Most Outstanding Player: Steve Johnson, USC
2011 NCAA Championships - Stanford, Calif.
NCAA Championship (May 24)
 USC 4,  Virginia 3
(1) #22 Sundling/Poldma (USC) vs. #2 Courtney/Shabaz (UVA) - 7-8 susp.
(2) Gomez/Johnson (USC) def. Jenkins/Uriguen (UVA) - 8-2
(3) Nguyen/Sarmiento (USC) def. Domijan/Singh (UVA) - 8-4
USC wins doubles point
Order of finish: 2, 3
(1) #1 Steve Johnson (USC) def. #5 Michael Shabaz (UVA) - 7-6 (2), 6-3
(2) #2 Alex Domijan (UVA) def. #38 Jaak Poldma (USC) - 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
(3) #44 Daniel Nguyen (USC) def. #34 Sanam Singh (UVA) - 7-5, 0-6, 6-4*
(4) #56 Jarmere Jenkins (UVA) def. #47 Ray Sarmiento (USC) - 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
(5) Emilio Gomez (USC) def. Justin Shane (UVA) - 6-0, 6-3
(6) Julen Uriguen (UVA) def. Peter Lucassen (USC) - 6-2, 1-6, 6-3
Order of finish: 5, 1, 2, 6, 4, 3