For the second year in a row junior Daniel Nguyen clinched the NCAA championship for USC, as the No. 2 Trojans claimed their third consecutive title in a 4-3 win against undefeated No. 1 Virginia.
This was the second time USC had won three consecutive titles.
USC coach Peter Smith couldn’t have been more proud.
“One word: history. I mean how many teams have won three in a row,” Smith said. “These boys did it. … It’s a very proud day to be a Trojan.”
Disposing of its previous opponents handily, USC looked as if they might be unchallenged en route to yet another NCAA title.
Within the first hour, the Trojans had secured the doubles point and were in command on five of the six courts during the first set of the singles matches.
Freshman Emilio Gomez exerted his dominance on court five, blanking Justin Shane 6-0 in the first set and moving on to take a 5-3 edge in the second. Shane tried making a comeback in the second set, taking the ninth game of the set to deuce, but Gomez never wavered and was the first Trojan to secure a victory in singles play, giving USC a 2-0 lead in the match.
Junior Steve Johnson was challenged by Virgina’s Michael Shabaz on court one. Tied at six apiece, Johnson used his signature serve to take control of the tiebreak to propel himself to a 8-6 (7-2) win after a grueling back-and-forth first set.
“You’ve got to bring the fire on a day like today,” Johnson said.
Johnson had a 5-3 edge in the second set, in the close, scrappy deuce-filled duel against Shabaz. But Johnson never looked back, earning the Trojans another point, winning 8-6, 6-3 to give USC a commanding 3-0 lead.
But the Cavaliers refused to quit.
Ngyuen was blanked 0-6 in the second set against Singh, but he kept his cool.
“I was bummed, but just tried to stay focused and take it one point and a time and stay composed,” Nguyen said.
On court two, senior Jaak Poldma defeated Virginia’s Alex Domijan in the first set. The co-captain, however, would fall in the second set and the deciding third set 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 allowing Domijan to clinch the first point of the day for the Cavaliers.
After senior Peter Lucassen battled back to knot his score with Virginia’s Julen Uriguen at one set apiece, he eventually fell in the third set 2-6, 6-1, 3-6. This cut USC’s deficit to a single point at 3-2.
Freshman Ray Sarmiento also won his first set, beating Virginia’s Jarmere Jenkins 6-3.
The freshman, however, faltered in the second and third sets, allowing Jenkins to tie the score at three apiece, setting the stage for Nguyen.
“You can’t worry about losing in that situation,” Smith said. “You’ve got to go for it.”
Nguyen broke Singh’s serve to lead 4-2 in the third set after Singh double-faulted. Nguyen took it to four deuce points in the eighth game, when he fell 3-5.
Nguyen was on serve when he fell 15-40 to Singh. Nguyen brought it back to deuce, but he lost the game.
Singh was on serve when Nguyen went up 30-15, two points away from the national championship title. Singh prolonged USC’s win a bit longer, winning the second point to bring the score to 40-30.
In one last point of beautiful footwork and ball placement, Nguyen did it again, beating Singh to clinch yet another NCAA title.
“It’s definitely a dream come true. [In] last year’s [match] I didn’t realize I clinched, but this year I realized I was last match on. I literally just pushed myself mentally and physically,” said an emotional Nguyen. “I believed in myself and my team.”