For the first time in years, the Cal men’s tennis team will be without a standout senior.
Two seasons ago, standout Pedro Zerbini, who was in the top-2o in singles nationwide, left a noticeable hole in Cal’s lineup after his graduation. Last season, Cal lost some of its most consistent players in seniors Carlos Cueto and Nick Andrews.
Without their reliable veteran talent on the top courts, the Bears will have to rebuild a strategy to instead focus on replacing the gaps left by their seniors.
Cal has strong members in players like co-captains Christoffer Konigsfeldt and junior Ben McLachlan, both of whom will attempt to fill out the spots left by the seniors. Konigsfeldt, who was a part of the No. 6 doubles team in the country with Andrews last year, advanced to the singles round of 16 in the Northwest Regional Championships.
McLachlan, who finished last season with a 15-6 overall dual record, will be returning to play on the top court as one of the Bears’ star members.
The Bears will look to use fall’s preseason tournaments not only as an individual training period in preparation for the spring season but also as a time to adapt to the new team dynamic. The coming months will act as Cal’s buffer zone, giving the team a chance to potentially figure out its strategy.
“This fall semester we’re all trying to be the best we can be individually for the spring,” sophomore Gregory Bayane said. “But it’s still teamwork we’re getting at.”
If the Bears are to advance farther than the third round at the NCAAs last year, the younger athletes on the team will need to assume larger roles. However, the experienced players will still contribute to the bulk of the team’s success.
After finishing the season with a loss to UVA during the third round of the NCAAs, the team plans to build on the momentum from last year. Cal coach Peter Wright believes that the experience of returning players and the energy and strength of the newcomers will make a heady combination worthy of bringing the Bears back to the sweet 16.
“The new players bring an enthusiasm and exuberance with them,” said Wright. “They’re pushing each other, they’re pushing the old guys, and they’re excited about making a contribution to a very strong team.”
As usual, the Pac-12 field will surely not make life easy for the Bears. Come spring, Cal will again be competing against traditional powerhouses like UCLA, USC, and Stanford.
Cal has never won an NCAA team championship and even struggled to play past the third round of NCAAs.
On the other hand, UCLA and Stanford have earned 16 and 17 NCAA titles, respectively. But nonetheless, USC is the dominant force in the Pac-12. Last year, the Trojans took the NCAA Team Championship title for the fourth year in a row, adding to a total of 20 titles in its program history.
“Within our conference—USC, UCLA, Stanford—we battle it out quite a bit, and I think we ended on the short end for a couple of matches that we’d like to pay back this year,” said Wright.
With the Bears working on building a new strategy, Wright stands by his goal to continue to make the Cal tennis squad a process-oriented team. He plans to focus solely on short-term goals: having each player work on their own weaknesses in order play regardless of final results.
“As each guy improves, that lifts the whole enterprise,” Wright said. “Our focus is on being one day better today than we were yesterday.”
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