After nearly five hours of emotional ups and downs, the Western Athletic Conference tennis championship match between rivals Utah and BYU finally came down to a third-set tiebreaker that lasted less than five minutes.
When all the smoke finally cleared from the barnburner finish, the Utes had a 5-4 victory and their ninth WAC tennis title in the last 11 years.Six singles matches and two doubles matches had left the Utes and Cougars in a 4-4 deadlock, putting all the attention on the No. 2 doubles match between Utah's Johan Hogstedt and Eric Chin and BYU's George Chingas and Sean Morrison. Players from both teams gathered in the same set of bleachers - the Utes down low on the west side, the Cougars up high on the east side - to cheer their teammates on. Even the BYU golf team, which had completed its practice round, joined the Cougar throng.
The Utah duo had won the first set 6-3, while BYU won the second 7-6, taking the tiebreaker 7-3. In the third set, the BYU pair quickly broke Hogstedt in the opening game, only to see Utah come back in the fourth game to break Chingas. When neither team could break through again and the games reached 6-6, the match went to a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, the Utes won the first three points as Chin hit a winner between his two opponents off a volley on point No. 2 and Hogstedt hit a backhand lob that landed in the left corner behind Chingas on point No. 3. The BYU twosome obviously felt the immense pressure of the situation as Chingas double-faulted to make it 5-2 Utah and then Morrison double-faulted on match point to give Utah the game 7-3. That gave the Utes the match and the team victory as the Ute players and coaches stormed the court to celebrate.
"There was a lot of pressure, but I felt confident and had confidence in my partner," said Chin.
"The first two or three balls are so important in a tiebreaker, and we got those," said Hogstedt.
Ten minutes after the match, Utah Coach F.D. Robbins said he still felt "nervous" although he seemed outwardly calm.
"That last doubles match, the momentum kept going back and forth and everybody was yelling and screaming . . . It could have gone either way and fortunately it went our way," he said.
For first-year BYU Coach Jim Osborne, a former All-American player at Utah, it was a disappointing loss, especially after losing to Utah three other times this year.
"That's just too much for a first-year coach to go through," he said. "When it gets that close, both teams are winners. It's just a matter of a few points.
"But they're a good team that deserved to win. I hope they do well at the NCAAs."
Osborne had figured No. 2 doubles would be the pivotal match. While Robbins wandered among the three doubles matches, Osborne stayed netside of the No. 2 match to offer encouragement and advice.
Utah's other wins included Brendan Bowyer over Morrison at No. 2, 6-2, 6-3; Hogstedt over Andrew Sheppert at No. 3, 6-2, 6-0; Martin Tenlen over Chingas at No. 5, 6-3, 6-2; and Tenlen and Roger Jansson over Greg Skollar and Brian Hardin at No. 3 doubles 6-2, 6-2.
Robbins felt No. 3 doubles was the key match for his team because Tenlen and Jansson had not played together before Wednesday. They were put together for the WAC tourney because of an injury to Utah's Jorgen Lindeman last week. On Monday, Jansson had played with Chris Gladwell, and on Tuesday, no doubles were played.
"I didn't think we had a prayer at No. 3," said Robbins, who was happy to be dead wrong.
In BYU's victories, David Harkness won for the first time all week, defeating Chris Entzel 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1; Johnny Mattice beat Chin 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 at No. 4; Skollar beat Jansson at No. 6; and Harkness and Mattice teamed to defeat Entzel and Bowyer at No. 1 doubles 6-4, 6-2.
WAC NOTES: San Diego State beat Air Force 3-2 for third place, UTEP defeated New Mexico 3-2 for fifth and Hawaii blanked Colorado State 5-0 for seventh place . . . The individual portion of the meet got under way Wednesday afternoon, but not many Ute or Cougar players were involved in first-round matches. BYU's Skollar beat San Diego State's Scott Del Maestro, BYU's Brian Hardin defeated New Mexico's Bodee Avery, BYU's Gabe Pate was beaten by Hawaii's Jim Murray and Utah's Roger Jansson was beaten by San Diego State's Woody Yocum . . . The individual meet will continue through Saturday, when the singles and doubles finals will be played. BYU's Harkness is the No. 1 seed in the singles competiton . . . Utah's Tenlen dropped out of the singles competition because of his tender knee.