Young talent lifts No. 3 Texas to 2nd straight women’s tennis national championship, defeating No. 2 Oklahoma 4-1

The Texas women once again find themselves above the rest as the Longhorns captured their second-straight NCAA title Sunday night with a 4-1 victory over No. 2 Oklahoma.

In his sixth year leading the Longhorns, head coach Howard Joffe has cemented Texas among the nation’s elite women’s tennis programs, as it joins Stanford and Florida as just the third school to ever win back-to-back NCAA team championships.

“How improbable it is,” Joffe said after clinching the title. “Obviously back-to-back is improbable. Winning is improbable. But if you had seen the fall we had, if you had seen our team in January and February, I’d sooner buy a lottery ticket and cash that than our team be here, let alone win it.”

The Longhorns returned just four starters from last year’s team that went 31–1 and beat Pepperdine in a nail-biter for the title. With the oldest starters on this year’s squad just sophomores, youth would need to carry the Longhorns in their quest to repeat. Sophomores Peyton Stearns and Charlotte Chavatipon, hailing from Joffe’s 2020 recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 in the nation by Tennis Recruiting Network, headlined a youthful group that took down No. 5 Virginia, No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Oklahoma in consecutive days in Champaign, Illinois, en route to the title.

“Couldn’t be more proud of the group,” Joffe said. “With lots of injuries, lots of issues — which I’ll euphemistically just call them issues — the ladies banded together. They worked incredibly hard through late February, March and April, and here’s the result of that work.”

Facing a familiar foe with the national championship on the line, Texas needed to avenge two earlier losses to the Sooners. The Longhorns took down Oklahoma in the Big 12 title match a month ago in their third meeting of the season, but one more victory was needed to halt a rising Sooners program from reaching the top of women’s tennis. 

The Longhorns made quick work of the doubles point, breaking at each line early on and needing just a half hour to secure the first point of the match. Sophomore Kylie Collins and Chavatipon scorched their way to a 6-1 set win at line 2, and freshmen Sabina Zeynalova and Bella Zamarripa made quick work of Guzman and Staker of Oklahoma at line 3. The freshman duo broke serve three times in the set, capped off by Zeynalova’s down-the-line winner on set point.

After defeating No. 5 Cameron Morra of North Carolina on Saturday, No. 2 Stearns faced off against No. 10 Layne Sleeth. As she has all season, Stearns used her powerful forehand to breeze through the first set, taking it 6-0. Sleeth put up a stronger fight in the second set, but Texas’ star sophomore didn’t let up, winning the second set 6-2 and bringing Texas in front again, 2-1, after freshman Vivian Ovrootsky lost in straight sets at line 6.

The Longhorns took the first set in four of the six singles matches, forcing the Sooners to play catch-up. When it looked like an Oklahoma comeback was starting to mount, the Longhorns responded on several courts to halt the momentum. A 7-4 second-set tiebreak victory for No. 93 Zeynalova brought the match score to 3-1.

After Zeynalova’s win at line 3, freshman Allura Zamarripa had the chance to secure the winning point for a third consecutive match. Allura won her first set 7-5, and a tiebreak in the second would be the fourth and final point needed for the title. The freshman came through again, taking the tiebreak 7-4 before embracing her teammates.

Allura was named the tournament’s most outstanding player for her string of match-clinching wins. In addition, Stearns, Zeynalova and Allura were named to the All-Tournament Team for their singles play, along with Texas’ line 2 and 3 doubles pairs.

Youth was the story of this year’s Texas team that finished with a 26-4 overall record and the program’s fourth national championship, and it sits at the foundation of Joffe’s rebuild of a program that was struggling prior to his arrival. At the podium after the match, Oklahoma head coach Audra Cohen called Joffe’s Longhorns a dynasty that the Sooners hope to keep chasing and replicate. Despite battling injuries throughout the year, Texas’ youth, including Allura, consistently stepped up when needed and will look to provide a foundation for Joffe to continue building upon at Texas.

“Allura (Zamarripa), another one who played almost not at all this past fall, clinched the quarters, semis and finals for your Texas Longhorns,” Joffe said. “The freshmen showed up the way that they needed to, and as they say, the rest is history.”