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Tennessee Athletics | May 27, 2014

Liebietis, Reese break Tenn.'s title drought

  The individiual title is the first at Tennessee since 1980.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Juniors Mikelis Libietis and Hunter Reese hoisted Tennessee's first NCAA doubles championship trophies since 1980, but victory -- or defeat -- came by the narrowest of margins.

Libietis and Reese outlasted the fourth-seeded Ohio State team of Peter Kobelt and Kevin Metka in a three-set tiebreaker bonanza, capturing a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6) victory on their fourth match point at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.

"It was unbelievable," Libietis said. "Like I said [Sunday], this was going to be something special."

The Vols did not face a single break point all match and only had five break point opportunities against the tall, big servers from Ohio State, converting none of them. The match came down to small moments in the tiebreakers, and the Tennessee juniors held their nerve when it mattered.

In a doubles partnership that had its ups and downs during the past three seasons, Libietis and Reese emerged this year as the top team in college tennis.

Libietis and Reese ended the season winning two of the three collegiate majors this year, capturing the ITA All-American championships and the NCAA title Monday. They also reached the finals of the third major -- the USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships -- in November.

"I'm so proud of Hunter," Libietis said. "We stayed together the whole time. We've had some problems in the past in the finals of getting too excited and too down but today we were able to stay together and keep fighting."

The Vols' leading duo, ranked first or second nationally all year, had two match points come and go late in the second set on Kobelt's serve, but they settled down in the third set.

Metka double faulted serving at 6-6 in the third-set tiebreaker, giving Libietis an opportunity to serve out the match. Libietis missed his first serve but got his second in play. Libietis deftly handled a ball that skipped off the top of the net on the approach and Kobelt missed the next shot to give the Vols the 8-6 tiebreaker victory.

Throwing his racquet sky high, Libietis fell to the ground in celebration and joined Reese in an embrace at the net.

"He missed the first serve by a little bit but then came up with a big second serve," Reese said. "He stayed with that volley off the net also. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable."

Many of the UT tennis team made the drive back to Athens for the title match and joined Libietis and Reese seconds later to congratulate them on court. The Vols not playing certainly made their presence felt, leading the pro-Tennessee crowd in chants during the changeovers.

Libietis and Reese had opportunities to break in the opening set, manufacturing three break points. Every time they faced trouble, Kobelt and Metka relied on their big serves. The Vols took the lead in the tiebreaker when Kobelt mishandled a ball off the net, and Reese served out the tiebreaker.

The Vols had two match points with Kobelt serving at 5-6 in the second set, but Ohio State forced the tiebreaker. UT led in the tiebreaker 3-1 early, but Ohio State reeled off six points in a row to win the set.

In the third set, Libietis and Reese had their third match point at 6-5, but Ohio State equalized it at 6-6. Metka double faulted on the next point to give Libietis a chance to close the match.

The NCAA doubles championship is the second in program history, the only other coming in 1980 by Rodney Harmon and Mel Purcell.

The breakthrough at NCAAs has been a long time coming for the Vols after close calls in recent years and is the first NCAA title in Sam Winterbotham's eight-year coaching era. John-Patrick Smith reached a singles final in 2008 and back-to-back NCAA doubles championships in 2009 and '10. Rhyne Williams was a singles finalist in 2011.

Libietis and Reese finish the year 36-5, including 13-1 in the major championships.

"This match could have gone either way," said associate head coach Chris Woodruff, who served as the on-court coach for doubles this week. "We could easily be having this conversation the other way. I'm happy for these guys. This has been three years of work for this basically. We work a lot on doubles and these guys have really embraced it, so they deserve all the credit."

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