Top five is the last barrier to break through before your place among the best programs in the country cannot be argued. At top five, a team is mingling with the best, comparable to the best, right in the mix with the best. So, with a top-five ranking and five ranked singles players, the No. 5 Cal men’s tennis team should be feeling pretty proud about reaching this elite level, but diligent about maintaining or improving their position.
The Bears are ranked highly for a reason, but there are warning signs present in their performance in the fall season. In a disappointing finish in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, then-No. 17 Andre Goransson lost to Northwestern’s No. 44 Strong Kirchheimer, and the top-seeded duo of Florian Lakat and Filip Bergevi fell to Ohio State’s No.4-seeded Julian Cash and Arjun Kadhe.
Immaturity and lack of experience could be possible issues for Cal, as five out of the 12 members on the roster are freshman. To balance the youth, though, are three experienced and highly-accomplished seniors in Lakat, Goransson and Bergevi. No. 12 Lakat’s shining singles moment came last spring, then ranked No. 30, when he toppled Ohio State’s then-No. 1 Mikael Torpegaard, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (6) to send the Bears to the Final Four for the first time since 1991. He had a semi-successful fall season, posting a 7-3 record.
Not far behind Lakat in the rankings is No. 15 Andre Goransson. Goransson won the ITA Northwest Regional Championships and finished the fall season with a 12-4 record. Junior Billy Griffith received a ranking at No. 32 after a 10-2 season, followed by No. 69 Bergevi. Rounding out the singles rankings within the Cal team is none other than freshman Bjorn Hoffmann at No. 82 following a 12-3 season.
Hoffmann grabbed his first collegiate title in the fall, defeating Portland’s Mathieu Garcia, 7-6(6), 1-6, 7-6(3) to win the Aggie Invitational. The first-year defeated Washington’s then-No. 68 Mitch Stewart to reach the round of 16 at the ITA Northwest Regional Championships.
A strong singles lineup is important, but solid doubles teams are essential when it comes to team play. The No. 2 ranked pair of Lakat and Bergevi leads Cal in doubles. The duo were crowned winners of the Saint Francis Health System ITA All-American Championships and ended the fall season with a 8-2 record. Although they’re No. 2, their showing at the All-Americans displayed that they have a case as the strongest doubles team in the land.
The team seems to center around the three seniors and Griffith, who make up Cal’s top four singles players and top two doubles teams. These four, however, can’t do everything, and the Bears’ success really does depend on team performance. Hoffmann is proving himself a reliable player with enormous potential, but there is still one more singles slot open, assuming he claims the fifth spot.
Cal clearly has the talent to mix with the best in the country, but to actually become a championship team requires more than just that. Depth is the next key component, and that sixth spot might just prove to be the difference between returning to their Final Four glory or burning out early in the NCAA tournament.
Taylor Choe covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]