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UCLA wins National Championship in all-California thriller


2019 TOC UCLA champions

UCLA defeated the University of California, Berkeley in an all-California final that pitted the 2011 champion Bruins of USTA Southern California against the four-time champion Golden Bears from USTA Northern California.

Earlier in the day UCLA knocked off Duke, while California defeated Cornell to set up the final showdown at the Surprise Tennis & Racquet Complex in Surprise, Ariz.

“It feels great, there’s just no other way to describe it,” said UCLA captain Aaron Yu. “It’s just fantastic, especially as a senior. There were a lot of pitfalls, a lot emotion being the captain and being in charge of the roster. It’s really stressful so I’m glad in the end it all worked out.”

Neither team had lost of match heading into Saturday’s final, with UCLA’s closest call coming against Miami in the quarterfinals, a two-game win, while California’s five-game win in the semifinals proved to be its toughest test of the tournament.

The Golden Bears were looking for their first national title since back-to-back wins in 2014-2015, a year before the current senior class arrived on campus in Berkeley, while the Bruins wanted to secure the program’s second national title after a pair of top-five finishes the last two years.

California got off to a hot start, as the men’s doubles pair of Jerod Mah (San Rafael, Calif.) and Alan Valdez (Berkeley, Calif.) scored a 6-4 win over UCLA’s Alex Gaal (Hermosa Beach, Calif.) and Maalik Konop-Defreitas (Saint Paul, Minn.).

The Golden Bears would add to their lead in women’s singles, as California’s talented freshman Britney Pellouchoud (San Diego) cruised to a 6-1 win over junior Tasia Mochernak (San Diego).

UCLA’s comeback began in the third set, as Mocerhnak and partner Michelle Hao (San Diego) got the Bruins on the board with a 6-4 win over Grace Danco (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and Tiffany Tang (Rogers, Ark.).

The turning point came in men’s singles as UCLA’s Garrett Chun, who has not dropped a set in two years at Nationals, stormed out to a 5-1 lead over freshman Michael Wan (Cupertino, Calif.) when California opted to make a sub, sending in sophomore Ryan Dehmoubed (San Diego). If Chun were to have held serve and won the set 6-1, the match would have been tied 17-17 heading into the decisive mixed doubles set.

However, Dehmoubed broke Chun’s serve and held his own, bringing the set to 5-3. Chun would serve out the set for a 6-3 win, but those two games earned by Dehmoubed meant California held a 19-17 advantage entering the fifth and final set.

Mixed doubles pitted California’s Valdez and Pellouchoud against UCLA’s Gaal and sophomore Alexandra Ryan (Los Gatos, Calif.).

“My partner [Alexandra Ryan] is just super unstressed about everything and I just kind of fed off that,” said Gaal of his mindset heading into the final set. “We said to each other that if we’re going to lose, we’re not going to lose by pushing the ball around, we’re going to lose by being aggressive.”

The set stayed on serve until 3-3, when UCLA broke to take a 4-3 lead. After holding serve to push their lead to 5-3, the Bruins effectively tied up the match at 22 games apiece.

California’s big-serving Valdez was next up, looking to hold serve and potentially force the match into overtime. UCLA soon found themselves up 40-30, with two match points. At 40-40 Gaal returned, sending a backhanded passing shot down the line that landed just in.  

“Before the last point he hits the second serve and I dump the backhand into the net and I honestly thought that was my best chance because this guy had a big first serve,” said Gaal. “So I was lucky he missed it on the next point. But I thought the same thing, I’m going to be aggressive. If I make it, it’s going to be awesome, but if I push it and we lose the point, I would never be able to forgive myself.”

The 23-22 win gives the Bruins their second title and program history, but for California, the loss was disappointing as the senior class came up just short of securing the program’s fifth title.

“We’ve won every tournament we entered so to get to the finals at Nationals and lose by one it’s disappointing but it’s been a great season,” said senior captain Rohan Lageweg (Irvine, Calif.).

Earlier in the day, Duke defeated Cornell in the third-place match, capping an unexpected run at Nationals on the 10th anniversary of their program’s lone national title. The Blue Devils finished 34th a year ago and failed to qualify for Nationals the previous five seasons.

“To see this rapid progression from 34th to third and to be a part of this community of 11 amazing people and even more back at school, it’s an unreal feeling,” said senior co-captain Kanav Chhabra (Irving, Texas).

For Cornell, the fourth-place finish matched the best in program history.

“The competition was really great as usual. I’m just really proud of my team for bringing a lot of energy and competing our hearts out. I couldn’t really ask more from my team,” added sophomore captain Kevin Zhang (Marietta, Ga.).

Elsewhere on Saturday, the University of Georgia won the Silver Bracket, while Michigan prevailed in the Bronze Bracket and Notre Dame came out on top in the Copper Bracket.