And then there were four.
After Friday’s action that saw the bracket portion of the 2019 Tennis On Campus National Championship get underway, four teams emerged in the Gold Bracket that will vie for a national title on Saturday.
This year’s Final Four features three former champions and one perennial contender that is looking to finally get over the hump.
California is one of the most decorated teams in Tennis On Campus history, with four national titles, the most recent coming back-to-back in 2014 and 2015. Since then, the team has failed to advance past the quarterfinals.
“We’re a winning program, we’ve had success in the past,” said senior captain Rohan Lageweg.
Arriving in Berkeley as a freshman a year after consecutive titles, Lageweg has felt the pressure to lead his team back to the top of the TOC world.
“Since my freshman year the furthest we’ve got was the quarterfinals so to get back to the Final Four, it means a lot to us.”
Friday began with a 27-20 win over Florida in the quarterfinals followed by a decisive 25-11 win of Washington University St. Louis in the quarterfinals.
California has been relying on the success of their women’s singles line, anchored by freshman Britney Pellouchoud. The first year player from San Diego has been critical to the Golden Bears’ run back to the semifinals.
California will take on Cornell in tomorrow’s semifinal. The Big Red has consistently reached the Gold Bracket but has never finished better than fourth.
Cornell advanced to the semifinals with a 30-20 win over N.C. State in the quarterfinals after surviving a scare against USC in the Round of 16.
Cornell trailed after doubles and mounted a vicious comeback in singles, taking a commanding five-game lead into mixed doubles. However, a 6-1 USC win would force overtime, where Cornell eventually prevailed 7-4 in the tiebreaker to take the match 21-20.
Senior captain Kevin Zhang likes his team’s chances tomorrow.
“I think just playing [our] game,” Zhang said on the key to success tomorrow. “We have really strong players so I think as long as we play from within ourselves and don’t try to go for too much we’ll be in great shape.”
The other semifinal features 2011 champion UCLA, who owns a pair of top-five finishes the past two seasons. They’ll be facing off against Duke, easily the most unexpected of the semifinalists.
Although Duke won a title in 2009, the team finished in 34th place in 2017 and failed to qualify for Nationals each of the prior five seasons. After escaping pool play due to a tiebreaker, owning a head-to-head win over Minnesota, the Blue Devils won a pair of closely-contested matches on Friday, first besting Texas 27-21 and then defeating Washington 26-22 in the quarterfinal.
“It feels great, we’re super excited,” said co-captain Christian Tanner, a senior from Rye, N.Y. “We came here to have fun and play well and we’re all supporting each other doing that.”
Tanner touts the success of fellow co-captain Noor Sandhu playing women’s singles, as well as the mixed doubles line. And he hopes they have a bit of good fortune on their side in tomorrow’s matches.
“Duke won the national championship in 2009, it’s the 10-year anniversary, so we’re feeling pretty good about it going into tomorrow.”
They’ll be facing a UCLA team that comes to Nationals each year with high expectations.
“Two years ago we finished third and last year, my first as captain, we finished fifth which was a disappointment so I’m glad we did better than that,” said senior Aaron Yu. “Our goal is to prepare as hard as we can to improve every year until we win.”
UCLA stormed past Maryland 30-9 in their first match of the day and took down Miami 25-23 in a tightly contested quarterfinal.
However, Yu could only watch after an ankle injury on Thursday sidelined him for the tournament. He gives all the credit to his teammates, who he was prepared to watch play anyway if it gave the Bruins the best chance to win.
“Being the captain, my mentality it whatever is best for the team. I’m willing to sacrifice just about anything to see them win.”
Garrett Chun, a junior from Tracy, Calif., has been UCLA’s best player so far.
“Garrett, you look at him he’s pretty short but he’s a great player,” said Yu. “He’s been doing really well this year and he did really well last year at Nationals. He’s won every match he’s played so far.”
The semifinals begin at 8 a.m. tomorrow and the final will be at 6 p.m.
Other notable results from Friday included the defending national champions, Ohio State, falling in the Round of 16 of the Gold Bracket to N.C. State, 25-21. California remains the most recent back-to-back winners in 2014-15 and this marks the end of a two-year reign for USTA Midwest after Michigan won in 2017.
The hometown Arizona State Sun Devils reached the semifinals of the Silver Bracket with a pair of wins over Vanderbilt and Northeastern. They’ll play Brown tomorrow morning.
Tournament first-timers Winona State, Kansas State, and UT-Dallas all earned their first-ever TOC Nationals wins on Friday. Winona State took down Yale, while Kansas State defeated Navy.
UT-Dallas won a pair of matches over Kansas State and Rochester to advance to the semifinals of the Copper Bracket.
And, finally, Syracuse notched a win over Lone Star College, their first of the tournament, after missing their first two matches Thursday due to travel delays. They arrived nearly 24 hours late, in time to play their final pool match on Thursday.