Men's Tennis Wins Back-to-Back NCAA Titles

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On May 21, the 2008 University of Georgia men's tennis team became the first squad to win back-to-back NCAA Championship titles since Stanford accomplished that feat in 1998-99. The Bulldogs officially captured the championship by defeating the Texas Longhorns in the finals, 4-2. However, arguably the victory most indicative of the Bulldogs' talent came in the semifinal round as Georgia topped the undefeated, No. 1-ranked and heavily-favored Virginia Cavaliers, 4-3.

The 2008 NCAA championship marks the program's sixth crown, including Manuel Diaz's fourth national crown as the Dogs' head coach. Overshadowed by the run to the national championship run, the Bulldogs also captured their third consecutive regular-season Southeastern Conference championship with a 10-1 record. Georgia was 10-0 and had already clinched the title before dropping their only SEC contest in the last three years and ending a 40-match win streak against SEC foes.

The flash-point of the regular season that swung momentum in Georgia's favor was the Bulldogs' 5-2 victory against No. 4-ranked Ole Miss in Athens, March 2. Decimated by injuries that sidelined both senior co-captains and All-Americans, Georgia stepped up at every position to fill the void, overcame the adversity and snatched the win. Ole Miss had been favored to win the conference in the preseason coaches' poll, while the Bulldogs were picked to finish second.
For the third consecutive season, Georgia remained unbeaten at the friendly confines of the Dan Magill Tennis Complex. The Bulldogs are currently in the midst of a 47-match home winning streak that spans more than four calendar years. Georgia has not lost a dual match at home since April 23, 2005. The current Bulldogs are chasing the school-record home win streak of 52, accomplished across the 1971-75 seasons.

Georgia's season-long grind was defined by injuries, comebacks and players stepping up when called upon. After winning the ITA All-American Singles National Championship in the fall, senior Travis Helgeson battled tendonitis early in the dual-match season. However, he fought through it, fully recovered and went on to post a 29-10 singles record and clinch the NCAA Championship-winning match. Helgeson was named an All-American for the fourth consecutive year, earned First-Team All-SEC honors, and was voted the Southeast Region ITA Senior Player of the Year.

Senior Luis Flores began the spring season by going 5-0 and capturing the SEC Coaches' Indoor Singles Championship title, but suffered a stress fracture in the process. Following his first surgery, he suffered a second stress fracture, this time in his other foot, and underwent a second surgery. Flores missed most of the season, but rejoined the Bulldogs in time for the latter stages of the season, playing an important role in the SEC Championship-winning push. Fittingly, he clinched the regular-season SEC Championship-winning match against Vanderbilt. Flores truly hit his stride in the NCAA Tournament, winning every match he finished, and earned the team's third point in the national championship match to set Helgeson up for the clinch. Flores earned Second-Team All-SEC accolades.

In the absence of Flores and Helgeson, sophomores Nate Schnugg and Jamie Hunt stepped into the Nos. 1 and 2 singles positions, respectively, and held down the No. 1 doubles position together for the entire year. Schnugg posted a 43-9 overall record, including a 10-1 mark against the SEC, and earned All-America status by being named a Top 16 seed in the NCAA individual singles championships. Hunt finished the year at 39-8, including an impressive 24-1 dual-match record and an unbeaten 10-0 mark against the SEC. Schnugg was named a First-Team All-SEC selection, while Hunt was voted to the All-SEC Second Team. Flores (7-0), Schnugg (9-0) and Hunt (4-0) are each undefeated for their careers in the team portion of the NCAA Tournament.

Freshman Javier Garrapiz proved to be a major component, playing in the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 positions throughout the year. He won his first 15 dual-match contests and finished the year with a 19-3 record, earning Second Team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman Team honors.

At the bottom of the lineup, junior Josh Varela, sophomores Christian Vitulli and Alex Hill and freshman Drake Bernstein all saw time in the lineup at different points in the season and all made significant contributions. Varela and Bernstein held down the Nos. 5 and 6 singles positions in the landmark regular-season win against Ole Miss. The two also teamed up at the No. 3 doubles spot in that match and went on to clinch and emotionally-charged doubles point.

By finishing No. 1 in the final ITA Team Rankings, Georgia pushed its average final ranking in the Diaz era to 4.8, tied with Stanford for the best average finish over the last 20 years. The Bulldogs have finished ranked No. 1 four times in the last 10 years, including the last two straight. Georgia has also now been ranked in the Top -5 for 49 consecutive editions of the national rankings, including both human and computer-generated polls.
Diaz is the only active head coach in the nation with multiple national championships to his credit. Georgia's six NCAA championships trail only the Cardinal for the most won by any school in the modern tournament format, adopted in 1977.

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