If you asked 100 people who would win in a fight between a slug and a stag, most of them would choose the stag. However, last Saturday a special breed of Banana Slugs proved that assumption wrong.
With the women’s team there for support and amid cheers of “Here we go Slugs!,” six talented men’s tennis teammates took on six of Claremont’s Stags in matches that would conclusively decide how the future of Division III men’s tennis will look this season.
“We were definitely looking forward to this match against Claremont to make sure we would be hosting the regionals,” senior Ilya Gendelman said. “It’s so much better than a four- to six-hour cramped drive to L.A.”
On the cloudy day, UC Santa Cruz’s fourth-ranked DIII men’s tennis team took to the East Field courts to battle it out with the third-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College Stags. Claremont has recently become a rival team, adding an incentive for the Slugs to get the win.
“Starting in ’06, Claremont really started getting better because their recruitment got so much better,” men’s tennis head assistant coach Bryce Parmelly said. “When the seniors on the team were freshmen, Claremont beat us in a crucial game and just last season they beat us, so it’s become a sort of rivalry.”
In front of a large crowd of supporters, Gendelman and five others stepped up to take on the best Stags that Claremont had to offer in doubles competition.
One Santa Cruz supporter was heard saying, “Oh my goodness gracious!” in reaction to the intense back-and-forth action of the matches. In the end, UCSC managed to win two out of the three doubles matches and secure a lead that they refused to give up.
In Division III, tennis matches follow a nine-point system that consists of three doubles matches and six singles matches, all worth one point each. The first team to win five matches, or five points, takes the victory.
“We knew we had to keep being persistent, had to keep working and keep up with our fundamental style that [head coach] Bob Hansen has taught us,” Gendelman said. “When we get a lead in the doubles, we’re super-confident, because all you need to do is get to five points to win and our team is so deep.”
Next came the singles competition, during which the winner would ultimately be decided.
UCSC senior Jared Kamel won his two sets 7-5 and 6-3 respectively, going on to give the Slugs an overall 3-1 lead.
“Last time I played that guy he beat me pretty well,” Kamel said. “This time I felt really prepared because of the mental toughness training we’ve been practicing as a team.”
The Stags were able to win the next match to make it a close 3-2 margin. However, the Slugs took control, winning the next three matches to extend the lead to 6-2.
Most of the matches were close, decided in a crucial do-or-die third set with athletes bellowing their encouragment and frustration. The final match ended with a Claremont player surviving a brutal match to get the win, but it was futile as the Slugs got the overall win, 6-3.
Home-court advantage seems to have been behind the team’s success this year. Out of their nine home matches this season, the men have won seven — a success that they hope will continue into the all-important regionals.
This victory assures that UCSC will host the DIII men’s tennis regionals, something it has been striving for since the season’s beginning.
As one emphatic Slug supporter said, “Ain’t nothing to a boss.”