By Chayla Furlong
As the UCSC men’s and women’s tennis teams prepared themselves for the final week of classes last March, they weren’t getting ready for some wild vacation in a warm, tropical hot spot or for a lazy week with family and friends. Sure, they had exams to take and packing to do, but finals week found the Slugs out on the courts. All study breaks were spent cramming in serves and strokes for the upcoming week of competition. Unlike most students, the men’s and women’s teams would not be heading home. There would be no lounging or relaxing for the Slugs, as Spring Break would be spent playing tournaments in different states.
*Men’s DI Tournament at Boise, Idaho*
The Men’s Tennis team, led by coach Bob Hansen and his assistant Bryce Parmelly, made its way to the Midwest to compete against Division I teams from powerhouse universities.
The Slugs opened the Boise tournament with a tough loss against Sacramento State, with a score of 5-1. Unlike most tennis tournaments, Boise’s included only singles matches, which served as a disadvantage to the Slugs, who have historically competed well in doubles.
The UCSC men were successful in the back draw, defeating Gonzaga 6-1 on day two, University of Idaho 5-2 on day three, and clinching the final against Cal Poly 4-3 on the last day of the tourney.
Hansen said Jeff Fong, a junior transfer, sealed the final match for the Slugs, despite losing quickly in the first few rounds.
“I did pretty badly in the first two sets of my Cal Poly match,” Fong said. “I was waiting to see if my teammate was going to be the clincher match or if it was going be me. When Jared [Kamel] won, and the match wasn’t over, I was down 3-4 in the second and used all the cheering from my teammates to come back.”
Fong won the second set 7-5 and went on to have a third set battle. He came out on top, winning the third set in a tie break 7-6 (9-7).
After conquering the back draw in Idaho, the Slugs returned home the next day to play a huge match versus Claremont on April 1st. The Slugs, ranked #1 in the nation after winning the Indoor National Tournament, and the Stags, ranked #2 nationally, rallied all their efforts for the much anticipated face-off. Hansen was proud of both teams’ effort and heart.
“It was a match between the top two teams in the country,” Hansen said. “Claremont is really loaded with talent and our boys played really tough.”
The Slugs showed up big in doubles, winning two of the three doubles points. The only doubles loss was a tie break loss from the #1 team. In singles, there was a quick win from the #5 player, freshman Bryan Pybas, and a hard fought loss from #4 Max Ortiz. The next point for the Slugs was taken by #6 Colin Mark-Griffin to move the match to 4-2 in favor of UCSC.
Mark-Griffin was proud of his team’s effort over break, especially against Claremont.
“Our hard work is paying off, and our team has come together to play for each other,” he said.
Nothing supported that statement more than the fight of Matt Seeberger, who had a three set match at the #1 singles spot. Down 3-5 in the third, he came back to win his match 7-5, capturing the winning point of the match. “He showed champ heart,” Hansen said.
Parmelly, the assistant coach and a former player, credited the team’s success to Hansen’s coaching.
“You think of a good team as a coach telling the players what to do,” Parmelly said. “But Bob gets the guys to push each other, and more importantly, push themselves. It’s not Bob telling you what to do, it’s Bob showing you what you are capable of, and that’s what Claremont saw on Sunday: what we were made of.”
In addition to praising the coach, Parmelly credited the players.
“It’s a special group of guys,” he said. “Their commitment and their dedication to follow the coaches’ leadership and their belief in themselves has gotten them to where they are today.”
*Women DIII at Claremont, Redlands*
The Women’s Tennis team’s trip to Claremont proved to be challenging but successful. The team played six matches against top Division III teams, and came up 2-4 on the week.
On the first day, the Slugs were a little flat, coming off of travel and a few weeks without competition. They lost to Tufts 8-1 on the first day, and Williams 8-1 on day two. On the third day, the girls pulled out a victory over La Verne 8-1 despite windy conditions and injuries.
After a break on day four, the team defeated Chapman 9-0 on day five, and geared up to finish the trip against rivals Claremont and Redlands.
Claremont, ranked #1 in the West region, came up big with an 8-1 win over the Slugs on Friday. On Saturday, the Slugs pushed Redlands to a third set tie break before they fell 4-5 to the Bulldogs.
“Overall the trip was successful, though we lost some close matches to tough colleges,” Head Coach Erin Ness said.
As is often the case with tennis, the scores did not necessarily reflect the actual closeness of the matches that were lost.
“It’s hard to lose close disappointing matches to tough colleges, but we’re right there with these teams,” Ness said. “It’s just a matter of two or three points going our way, and those victories could have been ours.”
Freshman Kyla Rowe played a big role for the Slugs in their spring break matches, playing at the #6 singles spot and on the #2 doubles team. She had some big wins over tough opponents and demonstrated both fight and heart.
“Kyla played just amazing this week,” Ness said. “She competed hard and she’s the perfect example that when you put in the work and you play hard, good results will come—she was able to beat some great players.”
In the next few weeks, the Slugs are looking to clean up a few technicalities and get ready for regionals.
“We’re definitely going to have to work on closing out matches when we’re up and cleaning up our serving and returning,” Ness said.
The Slugs will also work on the mental aspects of the game, and will use their upcoming matches to practice for the regional competition. The playoffs are May 4th-6th.
“At that point,” Ness said, “we can look forward to knowing that we’ve done everything we can do to be prepared, and just let the results take care of themselves.”
“Whether we have a win or loss, the girls have this undying love and respect for each other,” she said. “Whether a teammate is playing an exhibition match or the clincher match, there is equal support across the board. This is something not all teams have, and this support and these relationships are what make our team special.”
Jessica Ruth, who fills the #1 spot for the Slugs, couldn’t agree more. “The Slugs created an electric environment, which made it easy to represent UCSC,” she said. “It made me proud to be a Slug.”