NORMAN, Okla. The Oklahoma men’s tennis team concluded one of its most successful seasons in recent years with an NCAA Tournament first round loss to No. 19 South Carolina Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.
The two teams battled back and forth the entire match but USC left the DeBois Tennis Center with a 4-3 victory and an improved record of 19-9. OU ended its season at a solid 17-7, its fewest losses in 13 years.
”We fought hard,” said OU coach Paul Lockwood. “We didn’t played well in doubles and it’s hard to give the 19th-ranked team a point and have to come back and win four out of six singles matches. We put ourselves in a position to do it, but we just didn’t have enough shots down the stretch. I am proud of all of the players and we gave it everything we could, it just wasn’t meant to happen.”
The NCAA experienced Gamecocks jumped on the scoreboard first with victories at No. 1 and 2 doubles. The feisty Sooners bounced back with wins at No. 2 and 4 singles to take a brief 2-1 led. South Carolina regained the advantage with points at one and three singles, however, the Sooners refused to throw in the towel as junior Lee Gregg battled back from a 4-1 deficit in the third set to win the match, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5, over Ben Atkinson, tying the score at 3-3.
”Lee’s wins was huge for us,” Lockwood said. “That gave us momentum and the opportunity to win a 4-3 match. He (Gregg) was down 4-1 in the third, so I was proud of his concentration, focus and toughness down the stretch.”
The deciding match came down to No. 4 singles. OU senior Silviu Tanasoiu pushed 35th-ranked Geraldo Knorr to three sets, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2, before USC earned the right to advance to the NCAA second round match against either host Oklahoma State or Southwest Missouri State Sunday.
“Marek (Velicka) was a couple of set points away from winning the first set and had a couple of opportunities, Sooner coach said. “When you’re playing at No. 1, you’re playing somebody that is not going to give it (the match) to you. You’re going to have to earn it. Marek was just an inch or two short on a couple of his shots, but I know he tried and gave a great effort.”
Off the court first for the Sooners was Ondrej Fukala. The 6-5 senior dominated Pedro Rodrigues, 6-0, 6-1, at No. 2 singles for his 25th victory of the season. Fukala ended the year at 25-8 and 18-3 in the spring.
Oklahoma native and team captain Tommy Garrison picked up the team’s second point of the day and extended his winning streak to 17 matches. The junior earned a 6-3, 6-4 win over Dmitry Babenko, giving him a flawless 11-0 mark at No. 4 singles. Garrison wrapped up the year with an overall performance of 23-8 and heads into next season two-wins shy of tying the school record for most consecutive victories at 19. Former Sooner Joe Braver set the record in 1982.
The season ended today but the future of OU tennis is bright as four of the team’s seven losses were by one point and three of those four matches were against teams ranked in the top 20. Oklahoma is sure to stay among the NCAA elite as all but two players will return to the program next season.
NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship First Round
Saturday, May 14, 2005
DeBois Tennis Center
South Carolina 4, Oklahoma 3
1. Knorr/Rodrigues (USC) def. Garrison/Fukala (OU), 8-2
2. Eklund/Cuellar (USC) def. Velicka/Tanasoiu (OU), 8-4
3. Gregg/Chavarria (OU) vs. Atkinson/Babenko (USC), DNF
Order of Finish: 1, 2
1. Tom Eklund (USC) def. Marek Velicka (OU), 7-6 (8), 6-3
2. Ondrej Fukala (OU) def. Pedro Rodrigues (USC), 6-0, 6-1
3. Jaime Cuellar (USC) def. Alexei Ivanov (OU), 6-3, 6-4
4. Tommy Garrison (OU), def. Dmitry Babenko (USC), 6-0, 7-5
5. Geraldo Knorr (USC) def. Silviu Tanasoiu (OU), 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2
6. Lee Gregg (OU) def. Ben Atkinson (USC), 3-6, 6-0, 7-5
Order of Finish: 2, 4, 1, 3, 6, 5