by Keith Peters
It seems something comes over the Stanford men's tennis team every time it competes at the NCAA championships in Athens, Ga. That's why you can throw out the records and forget what has happened all season. This is the event that Dick Gould's team points for each season.
"There is definitely something about Stanford that I just can't figure out," said senior Jeff Salzenstein, a two-time captain. "I really think the magic we have starts with coach Gould. He really motivates me, and I think the whole team."
Who can argue with that logic? Since Gould became head coach at Stanford 30 years ago, his teams have won 14 NCAA team titles--12 of a possible 20 since 1977 when the present team format was introduced.
The most recent came Tuesday when Stanford did something it hadn't been able to do all season--beat UCLA. Despite suffering three losses to the top-ranked Bruins during the season, the Cardinal won the showdown that counted most and captured its second straight national crown.
The final score was Stanford 4, UCLA 1. It was a victory truly worth celebrating, if for no other reason than to prove the setbacks to the Bruins during the season were just minor ones and that no one ever should count out the Cardinal, no matter how gloomy things may look.
"I think repeating was definitely tough," Salzenstein told the Stanford Daily. "I know some days in practice or even in some matches this year, it was really tough for me to get fired up. Sometimes, coach and I questioned our sense of purpose this year."
Salzenstein, however, knew that all would change once the team arrived in Athens, which has become Stanford's home away from home.
Stanford routed Texas, 4-0, in the opening round, despite being forced indoors when the court lights blew out with the Cardinal holding a 1-0 lead.
"The match could've gone either way when we moved inside," Gould said. Stanford's poise, however, held up and it was on to Round 2. There, the Cardinal avenged one of its four dual-match losses during the season by eliminating Southern Cal, 4-1.
That set up a semifinal match against the host Georgia Bulldogs. It was a dogfight all the way with Stanford finally prevailing, 4-3, as freshman Ryan Wolters tied the match, 3-3, with a three-set victory and senior Ricky Becker clinched it with another three-setter.
"We have to believe nothing is over until it is finally over," said Gould, drawing a familar line that usually involves a singing fat lady. "Anything can happen. I give credit to the character of my players."
Added Becker: "I was just trying to grind out points and stick with my game plan. I knew I didn't come here to lose and was giving it my all to keep playing."
It was that kind of attitude that carried Stanford through the tournament and into the championship match against UCLA, which had ended Stanford's 37-match win streak earlier this year in the finals of the USTA/ITA National Team Indoors.
Now it was Stanford's turn to end UCLA's 27-match winning streak. And the Cardinal did just that.
"After Monday's come-from-behind match (against Georgia), it gave us motivation to fight for this win," Salzenstein said.
Stanford dropped behind quickly as UCLA won the doubles point, then evened it at 1-1 when Becker posted a 6-4, 6-2 win over Vincent Allegre. It was Becker's fourth win over Allegre this season.
Junior Grant Elliott from Palo Alto then defeated Matt Breen, 6-3, 7-5, and Jim Thomas posted a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 triumph at No. 4 singles as Stanford swept the three singles matches it absolutely needed in order to have any chance of pulling out the victory.
In the previous three meetings with UCLA, Stanford's top three singles players failed to win a single match. That appeared to be happening again until Wolters rallied from a first-set loss against Eric Taino and went on to win the match, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
"I noticed that Grant and Ricky had won their matches and I knew Jim would win his," said Wolters, who wound up tourney play with a 4-0 record. "I really didn't realize I was the clincher until everyone rushed the court and started hugging me."
Wolters, a freshman, said before the final match that he was aware of the fact he was the only one on the team without a championship ring.
"Now," he said afterward, "I'm the only one without two rings."
It's certainly something worth shooting for next season.1
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