Rising young players give Cal for encouraging spring season

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Despite its dearth of star seniors, the Cal men’s tennis team believes it will be okay for the 2013 spring season.

After losing two of its most consistent players last year in seniors Carlos Cueto and Nick Andrews, the team took on six new members and was forced to rebuild a strategy that focused on replacing the gaps left by the seniors.

The Bears found fresh talent in junior transfer Campbell Johnson and freshman Mads Engsted. The strength and energy of the rookies on the team have added to the veteran talent found in players such as Christoffer Konigsfeldt, Gregory Bayane, and Ben and Riki McLachlan.

“We lost two of our starters this year but we gained some great guys as well that will really add to the depth of our team,” assistant coach Tyler Browne said.

In addition to top players Konigsfeldt and Ben McLachlan, several of the Bears have showcased their ability throughout the fall, many of them even winning individual titles.

The Bears dominated on Sep. 21 to 23 at the Audi Napa Valley Tennis Classic, competing against elite USTA juniors as well as top players from Stanford, Texas, Georgia, Harvard and Illinois. Senior co-captains Konigsfeldt, Engsted and the McLachlan brothers swept singles matches, ending with an overall 10-1 record.

“Each of our guys had stellar performances to start out the season at Napa, with Chris, Riki and Mads all winning their flights,” Browne said.

In the second half of the fall season, the Bears clinched titles in almost every tournament they attended. At the Battle of the Bay tournament on Oct. 12 to 14, Johnson stole all four of his singles matches in the back draw to claim the singles consolation title. Sophomore Bayane conquered both the Aggie Invitational on Oct. 5 to 7 and UCSB Classic on Oct. 12 to 14 to claim two straight singles crowns.

“Some of our newer players and younger guys are stepping up,” Browne said. “Greg especially has had a couple of nice results this year with his two tournament wins at Davis and Santa Barbara.”

The highlight of the season came at the USTA/ITA Northwest Regional Championships, from Oct. 19 to 24, in which the team won the singles, doubles and overall team trophies for the first time since 1969. For the third year in a row, a duo from Cal — this time the McLachlan brothers — won the doubles final trophy. In singles, Ben McLachlan went undefeated in all of his matches, capturing the singles title and Cal’s first Northwest singles trophy since 2003.

“Regionals was our biggest accomplishment this fall,” Riki McLachlan said. “Everyone won matches there and everyone got to compete at a high level.”

The two McLachlans went on to compete at the prestigious USTA/ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships against the most elite players in the nation. While Ben McLachlan lost in his second singles match to the top seed, the doubles partnership of Ben and Riki McLachlan reached as far as the quarterfinals round before falling to the third seed from Virginia.

With the end of the fall season, the team will shift its focus from individual player development to a more team-oriented attitude. Cal is looking to count not only on Konigsfeldt and the McLachlans — the top players on the team — but also on some of the younger and newer members.

“The new guys come in with a fresh look,” Riki McLachlan said. “They have an energy that lifts everyone, especially the older guys who’ve been through the routine, and I think our progress has shown this fall.”

According to Browne, the Bears’ ultimate goal, like every year, is to win the Pac-12 title. Although Cal’s main goal is lofty and high-reaching, the team more realistically hopes to end in the top-10 in the nation.

Last year, Cal ended the season at No.13. This spring, with a deeper and more well-rounded set of new and experienced players, the Bears are confident that they can finally finish in the top-10 rankings.

“In the last few years, we’ve been in and out of the top 10, but we’ve never ended there,” Browne said. “I think it’s definitely attainable with our set of guys.”

Janice Chua covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]