Given the caliber of the Cal men’s tennis team, the Bears showed remarkable consistency throughout the season. It just wasn’t the consistency of an elite program.
After finishing the 2011 season ranked No. 14 in the country, head coach Peter Wright’s squad started the season with the same ranking and finished one spot higher, capping a season of few peaks or valleys with a round of 16 loss to third-seeded Virginia at NCAAs.
But the story of the 2012 Cal men’s tennis team is a simple one: The squad beat all the teams worse than them, and lost to all the teams that were better.
Of the 13 games Cal played against opponents that finished the year in the top 10, the squad lost 12. Yet the Bears consistently defeated all opponents that ended the season with lower national rankings.
The Bears mostly stayed true to their national standing, playing well enough to avoid slipping down the national totem pole, but failing every opportunity to establish themselves as one of the nation’s top teams.
Many of the Bears’ early losses were encouragingly close. Cal dropped a pair of 4-3 decisions to UCLA in February, and the Bears did not look overmatched in a 5-2 loss to USC.
But the squad looked overmatched in every other loss, losing its final eight matches by a combined score of 43-5. Cal took just one set in its season-ending round of 16 loss to Virginia.
Unlike the Cal women’s tennis team, which was anchored by former national champion Jana Juricova and national semifinalist Zsofi Susanyi, the men lacked the individual starpower to compete with the nation’s top programs.
Lacking the individual standouts to compete with the Pac-12’s elite programs, the Bears were defined by their depth. Senior Nick Andrews, ranked No. 58 in the country, competed on the top court more than any other Cal player by default, but was replaced on the top court by sophomore Ben McLachlan in the squad’s three NCAA Tournament matchups.
But Andrews’ 8-14 singles record belies his true value to the team. Between Andrews and senior Carlos Cueto, the squad will lose two of its three most consistent players next year.
Cal’s dearth of talent on high-end courts will put the onus on McLachlan, ranked No. 37 in the country, to assume Andrews’ regular role on the top court. If this season’s small sample size is any indication, the sophomore is more than ready to take on the role.
McLachlan won all three matches as Cal’s top court player, finishing with a 15-6 overall dual record. McLachlan and his brother Riki eked out three-set wins in Cal’s 4-3 win over No. 22 Texas Tech in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, clinching Cal’s berth in the round of 16 for the third consecutive year.
The New Zealander was one of Cal’s only consistent threats against ranked competition, taking down two top-25 players in a two-week stretch in April, including USC’s No. 20 Ray Sarmiento.
But the Bears will need others besides McLachlan if they are to advance as far at NCAAs next year. Junior Christopher Konigsfeldt, who with Andrews was a part of the No. 6 doubles team in the country, will need to improve on his 10-11 record on the middle courts. French freshman Gregory Bayane, who finished the year 12-11, will face tougher competition next year as he moves to a higher court.
The Bears have now advanced to the round of 16 for two years straight. But if the team is to advance as far next year, its younger athletes will need to assume larger roles.
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