The men’s tennis team can now boast of a championship record after trouncing the competition at the 110th Annual Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament.
The Slugs returned to Santa Cruz with junior Brian Pybas and senior Marc Vartabedian crowned champion and runner-up respectively in the DIII Men’s Singles Tennis Championship.
“It was great; we’ve had some really productive long practices and it translated in all the guys’ performances,” head coach Bob Hansen said. “I’m really proud of them. Part of it was that favorable draw because they were seeded but it turned out they played well. The tournament was a success.”
Santa Cruz demonstrated their domination with an all-UCSC men’s singles final Sunday morning where Pybas and Vartabedian vied for the winner’s crown.
In the round before, Santa Cruz represented three out of four semifinalists. Vartabedian defeated ninth-seed Eric MacColl of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College 6-4 and 6-3 to earn his spot in the final, whereas Pybas entered the final round by defeating his ninth-seeded first-year teammate Erich Koenig.
All eight singles players from UC Santa Cruz made it through the first round and into the second, a feat no other school with more than one entry in the tournament could accomplish.
Leading to the final, Pybas faced Koenig, whose outstanding performance during the tournament carried him to the semifinals. In the end, after three tough sets, Pybas came out on top.
“I would have to say my semifinal singles match against [Koenig] was one of the most gut-wrenching and well-played matches,” Pybas said.
Koenig also contributed to Santa Cruz supremacy by upsetting fourth-seeded Matthew Solomon from Whitman University in the previous round, and continued his dominance early on in his semi-final match.
“[Koenig] played brilliantly in the quarter-finals when he beat [Solomon], who has been the region’s best player for many years,” Hansen said. “He did even better in the next round [and] was up 5-4 in the last set, two points from a win. Pybas earned it. Erich gave him everything he could handle.”
Displaying more Santa Cruz strength was fifth-seeded Marc Vartabedian, with his run to the championship against Pybas. The situation at hand could have been slightly more favorable, but an excellent overall performance from Vartabedian warranted high praise.
“Marc [Vartabedian] played amazing, clearly the best level I’ve seen him play most consistently,” Hansen said. “He didn’t play as well in the final, and Brian [Pybas] would much rather beat on someone besides his doubles partner, but it’s what happens.”
Facing Eric MacColl of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges in his semifinal matchup, Vartabedian battled through a late comeback from the talented ninth-seed, demonstrating offensive power and solidifying his place in the finals.
“He’s a great player and I was up a set and serving for the match 5-3,” Vartabedian said. “He won a couple close points in that game and I remember fighting hard to come back and win that final game. That could have potentially changed the match had I lost that game.”
Shaking up the doubles draw and making a surprisingly deep run to the semi-finals was a pair of UCSC first-years, Andrew Halabi and Parker Larsen.
“We did better than expected and I was pleased with the performance from both of us,” Halabi said. “We maybe could have played the team in the semifinals a bit tighter, but we played well this weekend.”
While two UCSC doubles teams fought their way into the semifinals, the two singles finalists, Pybas and Vartabedian, lost to the unseeded Whitman University pair of Eric MacColl and Brandon Wei, who eventually took the doubles title for themselves.
“The most disappointing loss was in the semis with Pybas and Vartabedian,” Coach Hansen said. “That doubles team of Marc and Brian I expected to win, but in my opinion, though, [MacColl and Wei] were the best of the tournament.”
Pybas gives credit to the opposition for this loss.
“Despite our slight drop in play during the match we lost, the team we played was very good and had a solid result, ultimately winning the tournament,” Pybas said.
Even with a disappointing drop-out of the doubles draw, the pair is looking at the loss in a positive light.
“I’m disappointed we couldn’t win the tournament but I know we’re really good,” Vartabedian said. “Obviously our goal is to help win the NCAA team championship but also to position ourselves to make a run through the NCAA doubles tournament. Ojai is a stop along the way and we learned what we can do to improve our doubles game together.”