By Helen Tuman
Sports Reporter

The UC Santa Cruz men’s tennis team came out on the losing end of its final game of the season to a team it had been battling since the beginning of the season: UCSC’s rival Claremont College. The No. 2-seeded Claremont beat the Slugs 5–3, evaporating its No. 1 ranking.

After the UCSC men’s tennis team completed the perfectly executed, undefeated 2006–2007 season, expectations were high coming into the 2007–2008 season.

“It’s hard to maintain hunger,” said Bob Hansen, men’s tennis head coach. “And being defined the year before is scary.”

The Slugs began their season as the No. 1 seed, which they achieved as a result of last year’s success, and maintained the top spot until a heart-wrenching 5–4 loss to the host team at the indoor championships held at the Swanson Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus.

“After you win, you relax,” junior men’s tennis team member Max Ortiz said. “We were basking in glory instead of looking forward.”

This year’s season differed from seasons past because no single Division III team was able to hold on to the No. 1 spot. First place became a curse because once a team climbed to that position, it would lose its next game and fall back down in the rankings.

“This year was a strange year in DIII men’s tennis,” Hansen said. “There was no dominant team throughout the entire season.”

The losses the Slugs suffered to Azusa Pacific University and Gustavus Adolphus College hurt their record, but the loss to Claremont did the most damage.

“[The] only difference from our success this year and being national champs last year was we took our eye off our regional rival, Claremont,” said Jared Kamel, junior and men’s tennis player.

Despite setbacks, the team maintained its momentum throughout the season, finishing with a record of 14–6 in regular season play until coming to a halt after the nail-biting 5–3 loss to Claremont in regionals.

Even with tough losses during the season, the players and coaches agree that the team became better and stronger as a whole. Despite suffering some bitter defeats, the team has been able to look forward instead of dwelling on the past.

“The character of the team is strong,” Ortiz said. “It’s obvious in our heads and in our hearts.”

The core of the team will be returning next year as seniors, with the addition of a handful of juniors. With sights set on next season, members of the team will begin a voluntary training session this summer.

“I expect great things from them next year,” Hansen said. “I hope they’re up for the challenge.”