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Southern California wins 21st national title

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Ray Sarmiento senses something special when he walks onto the courts at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

It certainly helps that Sarmiento and some of his Southern California teammates fondly recall winning a national title at the University of Georgia two years ago.

“It’s like you’re playing at home,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere. That makes it so special.”

Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann won their singles matches in straight sets and USC earned its 21st NCAA championship with a 4-2 victory over Oklahoma on Tuesday night.

The top-seeded Trojans (32-3) clinched their fifth national title in six years under coach Peter Smith when Max de Vroome held serve with a backhand volley to beat Andrew Harris in No. 4 singles.

“We’ve had so many great players, and it’s amazing to see a new group stepping up,” Smith said. “Winning one of these is so hard.”

Second-seeded Oklahoma (27-5) led 2-0 after Dane Webb won No. 3 singles, but the Sooners couldn’t hold their momentum.

Hanfmann beat Guillermo Alcorta 7-5, 6-2 in No. 1 singles, and Sarmiento held off Axel Alvarez in 6-4, 7-6 in No. 2 before Eric Johnson won No. 5 singles for a 3-2 Trojans lead.

For Sarmiento, who was a sophomore when Southern California beat Virginia for the national title in Athens two years ago, almost everything went right once the Trojans returned to Georgia.

He didn’t lose a set after the tournament moved to Athens for the round of 16 last week, knocking off fourth-seeded Mitchell Frank of Virginia in the semifinals before facing Alvarez.

“I dug myself a pretty good hole at the beginning (of the match),” Sarmiento said. “But since Day One, coaches have emphasized to leave it all on the court and whatever happens happens, so I just competed my butt off.”

Webb, despite watching the Sooners lose four straight matches, was pleased that Oklahoma played competitively in the school’s first trip to the finals.

“We made a lot of history for OU,” Webb said. “That’s always nice to be a part of. It’s a lot of the reason I came here so that we could do a lot of stuff that had never been done before. It feels good.”

Smith, who also led USC to the 2010 national title over Tennessee in Athens, instructed the Trojans to be aggressive by advancing to the net whenever they had a chance.

“We had some game plans to get the ball in strike zones and go forward,” Smith said. “That’s normally what we like to do. We hadn’t played them as a team, but we knew exactly who they were.”

De Vroome had a tough time putting away Harris, particularly after leading 4-3 in the third set and going up 40-love before getting his serve broken and losing the game.

But the junior broke Harris in the next game before closing out the match with a strong backhand.

“There’s so much going through your mind, but seeing your teammates right next to the court and your coaches right there to help you through means a lot,” de Vroome said. “There’s no way I could’ve done it without them. Fighting for them, fighting for yourself and just going with the plan and staying disciplined.”

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