The 1998-2000 New York Yankees. The 2004-2005 New England Patriots. The 2009-2010 UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs?
Believe it or not, these teams all have one thing in common — back-to-back championships, or in the case of the UCSC men’s tennis team, the potential to win consecutive titles. The team members are looking to further their reputation of dominant play by following up their 2009 national championship title with another one in 2010.
Coach Bob Hansen developed the Slug tennis program and is entering his 30th season as head coach of the men’s team. Since his tenure began the program has become one of the most reputable in the country among Division III teams, racking up seven national championships — three of which have come in the past five years.
Hansen says the key to the team’s success last season came from playing well down the stretch when it counted the most.
“We were playing our best in May at the national tournament and that was the key to our success, along with the fact that our doubles were amazing,” Hansen said. “We won 15 straight doubles matches.”
Senior Marc Vartabedian attributes the championship season to a strong bond between the players, several of whom were also with the team when it won the title in 2007.
“I think our team’s closeness was really motivating; we really wanted to accomplish something great together,” said Vartabedian.
If men’s tennis is to win the title for the second year in a row, however, they’ll have to do it without the help of five players from last year’s team, all of whom were seniors. Hansen acknowledges that this will be a challenge and believes that this accounts for the team’s preseason ranking as 10th in the country in one poll, which is “as low as we’ve been ranked in a number of years.”
“We are definitely starting over,” Hansen said. “Everyone says this is going to be a rebuilding year, and we’re hoping it’s a reloading year … [but] it’s definitely going to be a challenging year on a number of levels.”
Hansen added, however, that he feels optimistic about the team’s construction of new and returning team members — particularly players such as Vartabedian, who he said “is really gonna be a star,” and freshman Erich Koeing, who Hansen dubbed “the best new player.”
Koeing believes that leadership and team chemistry will be the main factors in whether or not UCSC can be repeat champions.
“We work the hardest in the country every year and it shows … everyone loves each other a lot, and that’s definitely the first step to repeating a national championship,” Koeing said.
While Hansen says that the team faces challenges ahead of them, he remains optimistic and hopeful about their chances of success this season.
“Some teams are fortunate enough to be crowned champions at the end of the year, but that’s beyond our control,” Hansen said. “What is in our control is how we function and how we train … it’s a huge uphill fight, but we’ve been able to overcome these odds in the past.”
What: UC Santa Cruz at Santa Clara University
Where: Santa Clara University
When: Saturday, Jan. 16 at 9:30 a.m.