One of the differentiating factors between championship teams and everyone else is the ability to perform in the postseason. When the playoffs roll around, no one cares about a team’s regular-season record or how many Pac-12 Player of the Week awards its players received, because everyone knows that the postseason is when the impossible becomes possible.
The No. 8-seeded Cal men’s tennis team had a strong showing in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, destroying Tennessee Tech, 4-0, on Friday in the Round of 64, then dominating No. 21-seeded Northwestern on Saturday, 4-1, in the Round of 32.
Friday’s match featured strong performances across all courts as every Bear either won or was ahead at the end of the match. The No. 5 power duo of seniors Florian Lakat and Filip Bergevi clinched the doubles point for Cal, easily shutting down its opponents, 6-1.
In terms of dominance, singles were more of the same for the Bears. No. 81 junior Billy Griffith and freshman Bjorn Hoffmann beat their opponents in two sets before junior JT Nishimura clinched for Cal. All of the matches were clear-cut wins for the Bears.
Tennessee Tech may be unranked, but the match was still an impressive showing on Cal’s part to dismantle its opponent.
The Bears’ match Saturday yielded similar results. Cal got off to a slow start with a loss in doubles — Lakat and Bergevi fell to the No. 80 pair of Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieb, 6-4. No. 74 duo of Griffith and senior Andre Goransson were on pace to defeat the No. 53 duo of Strong Kirchheimer and Dominik Stary, but Hoffmann and Nishimura’s 6-2 loss to freshman Chris Ephron and sophomore Michael Lorenzini gave the Wildcats the doubles point.
But Cal turned its fortunes around in singles. Nishimura was the first Bear to capture a win during singles, defeating his opponent, 6-3, 6-3. Griffith and Goransson followed Nishimura’s performance with a wins of their own. Clinching the match was none other than Hoffmann, one of the youngest Bears in the lineup up playing in his first NCAA championship tournament.
Hoffmann’s performance throughout the entire season has been impressive in and of itself, but his performance with the pressure on as a postseason rookie potentially foreshadows his development at Cal.
The Bears have gotten off to a strong start to the postseason and the consistency they displayed this weekend is exactly what they’ll need as they progress deeper into the tournament.
Cal will head to Athens, Georgia to battle with No. 9 North Carolina, which has the ninth-seed in the tournament. The Tar Heels advanced to the Round of 16 by way of a 4-0 victory in the Round of 64 against VCU and a 4-1 victory No. 20 South Carolina. This will mark the fourth year in a row and the 11th time in the school’s history that it has cracked the Sweet 16.
Taylor Choe covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]