ATHENS, Ga. -- The University of Georgia men's tennis team (32-0) closed out its season on the highest of highs Tuesday night, capturing the NCAA Championship at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex in front of a near-capacity crowd. The Bulldogs defeated Illinois (23-9), 4-0 in the final. The title-clinching match came off the racquet of senior Matic Omerzel (Kranj, Slovenia) as he took down Ruben Gonzales, 7-6(5), 6-1 from the fourth singles position.
"It's players that win championships, and that's exactly what they did," said Georgia head coach Manuel Diaz. “I'm really proud of every one of my guys. Illinois played a great match today on every spot but we came prepared. We had a few butterflies early but I told our guys they wouldn't be normal without them. We did a great job executing today and played hard - we did not play tight."
Georgia has captured all five of its NCAA Team Championship titles in Athens. Furthurmore, all five have been clinched on courts 4, 5 or 6, commonly known as ‘The Pit'.
The formula was the same for Georgia as it had been throughout the year as the Bulldogs began by capturing the doubles point. UGA finishes the year having won the doubles point 31 times in 32 matches. First to finish was the freshman tandem of Jamie Hunt (San Antonio, Texas) and Nate Schnugg (Medford, Ore.) as they took down GD Jones and Marc Spicijaric, 9-7, at the third position. Georgia's 16th-ranked duo of junior Travis Helgeson and Omerzel then beat Brandon Davis and Gonzales, 8-6, to clinch the point at the second position. The match at the top spot went unfinished with No. 1-ranked John Isner (Greensboro, N.C.) and junior Luis Flores (Xalapa, Mexico) trailing No. 8-ranked Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe, 7-8.
In singles play, 95th-ranked Schnugg gave Georgia a 2-0 lead as he topped Jones, 6-4, 6-1 in the fifth slot. No. 1-ranked Isner then made it a 3-0 lead with a 6-1, 7-6(1) victory at the top spot over No. 5-ranked Anderson, setting Omerzel up for the clinch.
Coincidentally, Omerzel lost the match that gave Pepperdine a 4-2 win over the Bulldogs in last year's NCAA Championship in Palo Alto, Calif. In truly redeeming fashion, Omerzel posted a four-win performance in the Championships and was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
"I was the one that was the deciding fourth point for Pepperdine (at the 2006 NCAA Championship match)," said Omerzel. “The whole summer that match haunted me. The longer we went into the season the less I thought about it. I tried to focus on each match and play may game. I got the MVP but I think the whole team deserves it."
In addition to Omerzel, Georgia placed two other singles players on the NCAA All-Tournament team. Isner (No. 1), Omerzel (No. 4) and Schnugg (No. 5) each earned All-Tournament accolades.
Manuel Diaz has now led the Bulldogs to three NCAA Team National Championships (1999, 2001 and 2007) in his 19-year career as the head coach. He was also an assistant coach under legend Dan Magill when UGA captured the 1985 and 1987 NCAA crowns. His career record now stands at 436-93.
Georgia will begin play in the individual portion of the NCAA Championships on Wednesday, May 23 with the Round of 64 of the Singles Championships. The first Bulldog in action is Flores, who takes on Haythem Abid of UCLA.
Order of finish: Singles (5, 1, 4)
1. #1John Isner (UGA) def. #5 Kevin Anderson (ILL), 6-1, 7-6 (1)
2. #22 Ryan Rowe (ILL) vs. #14 Luis Flores (UGA), 7-6 (6), 4-2 unfinished
3. #12 Travis Helgeson (UGA) vs. Marc Spicijaric (ILL), 7-6 (4), 4-2 unfinished
4. #35 Matic Omerzel (UGA) def. Ruben Gonzales (ILL), 6-4, 6-1
5. Nate Schnugg (UGA) def. GD Jones (ILL), 6-4, 6-1
6. Billy Heiser (ILL) vs. Jamie Hunt (UGA), 6-4, 3-6, 1-2 unfinished
1. #1 John Isner/Luis Flores (UGA) vs. #8 Kevin Anderson/Ryan Rowe (ILL) 7-8, unfinished
2. #16 Travis Helgeson/Matic Omerzel (UGA) def. Brandon Davis/Ruben Gonzales (ILL) 8-6
3. Nate Schnugg/Jamie Hunt (UGA) def. GD Jones/Marc Spicijaric (ILL) 9-7
Order of finish: Doubles (3, 2)