Team Effort Lifts Vols to Finals
SEATTLE -- After Tennessee's 4-2 semifinal victory over Duke on Sunday, associate head coach Chris Woodruff stepped out of the team locker room and immediately summed it up best.
"If I said that Rhyne (Williams) and JP (Smith) were going to lose today and Tennys Sandgren would be sick and out of the lineup, how many people would have expected us to win?" Woodruff said. "That was a real team effort out there."
Against those odds, the lower half of the singles lineup produced three wins to propel the third-ranked Vols past 15th-seeded Duke and into the finals of the ITA National Team Indoor Championships for the second year in a row.
After Tennessee took the doubles point, veteran senior Boris Conkic quickly grabbed his 100th career singles victory to put the Vols up 2-0, but by contrast, the final two points came much later from the least-experienced members of the UT singles lineup: sophomore Edward Jones and January freshman addition Jarryd Chaplin, who had taken Sandgren's place in singles and doubles.
Both players won in three sets, and Jones clinched the semifinal victory by beating Jared Pinsky 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on court 5.
"What we're realizing is that we have six different ways to win points," Tennessee head coach Sam Winterbotham said. "We're not relying on any one person. Guys get better in this program, and we're seeing that."
The Vols face top-seeded Virginia in a championship rematch at 3 p.m. Eastern at the Nordstrom Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Washington. Last year, Virginia beat Tennessee 4-1 in the finals. A live blog of the match will be available at UTSports.com.
While the Vols (9-0) had shut out Duke (8-3) the week before at 7-0, it was with a differently ordered lineup at the top and four matches went three sets. Most notably, the Vols earned that victory with Sandgren playing -- and winning -- at No. 3. The sophomore from Gallatin has been out of action nearly the entire tournament with an illness.
In doubles, Chaplin was inserted into the lineup at the No. 2 position for the second match this tournament with Sandgren unable to play. Again, the freshman from Sydney, Australia, helped the Vols win the point. He and Williams defeated Pinsky and Fred Saba 8-2. Jones and senior Matteo Fago clinched the point with their 11th consecutive victory on court 3, defeating Chris Mengel and David Holland 8-3.
With the doubles point in hand, Conkic wasted no time in becoming the eighth Vol in history to reach 100 wins, beating Saba 6-1, 6-1 on court 4, but that was the last point the Vols got for a while.
Duke rallied with two straight-set wins from the top of its lineup. Henrique Cunha, ranked 10th, downed top-ranked Williams 6-4, 6-2 on court 1, and sixth-ranked Reid Carleton defeated 17th-ranked Smith 6-3, 6-3 on court 2 to tie the match 2-2.
That left Fago, Jones and Chaplin still on court for the Vols.
Chaplin was playing in just his second singles match in team competition at UT. His debut was on Friday, where he quickly fell to Georgia's Hernus Pieters. Although he lost, Chaplin said the experience of being in a high-pressure match helped him keep his composure Sunday against Luke Marchese on court 6.
With his teammates at his back cheering in the balcony seating, Chaplin came back from a rough second set to serve out a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory.
"The closer the match got, I felt like I was able to handle my emotions better than my opponent," Chaplin said. "It's very easy to give my best every time I walk out there when I've got such a close group of friends with me. They'll say the exact same thing. That makes competing your hardest very easy, when you're competing for the boys as well."
Right after Chaplin put the Vols ahead 3-2, Jones served for the match on court 5. Pinsky did not get a single point as Jones held for the 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win to clinch the victory for Tennessee.
Although Jones lost his first match against Georgia on Friday to start the tournament, he has collected a pair of wins for UT playing up at the No. 5 position the last two days, improving his dual match record to 8-2.
Fago was on serve early in the third set on court 3 when the match ended.
On Monday, the Vols play for their first National Indoors title. They came close last season, winning the doubles point but then losing 4-1 to three-time defending champion Virginia at the Cavaliers' home courts in Charlottesville.
Tennessee has now reached the tournament final three times, the first time coming in 1993, which was Woodruff's sophomore season at UT.
"The guys get along so well with each other," Winterbotham said. "They're a team and different guys step up and support each other on different days. As a coach, when I look at that, it makes me feel great about the program. This is a special group of guys.
We're in the final again. Now we have to get ourselves ready to play tomorrow."
Tennessee 4, Duke 2
1. #10 Henrique Cunha (Duke) def. #1 Rhyne Williams (Tenn), 6-4, 6-2
2. #6 Reid Carleton (Duke) def. #17 John-Patrick Smith (Tenn), 6-3, 6-3
3. #68 Matteo Fago (Tenn) vs. Chris Mengel (Duke), 6-4, 6-7, 3-2 DNF
4. #119 Boris Conkic (Tenn) def. Fred Saba (Duke), 6-1, 6-1
5. Edward Jones (Tenn) def. Jared Pinsky (Duke), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
6. Jarryd Chaplin (Tenn) def. Luke Marchese (Duke), 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
1. #8 Smith/Conkic (Tenn) vs. #9 Cunha/Carleton (Duke), 6-6 DNF
2. Chaplin/Williams (Tenn) def. Pinsky/Saba (Duke), 8-2
3. Jones/Fago (Tenn) def. Mengel/Holland (Duke), 8-3
Order of finish: Doubles (2,3); Singles (4,1, 2, 6, 5).