The round of 16 is when tournament action starts to get serious. The field is pruned as the bottom feeders are cut and left behind. Those who make it past the initial rounds of play get to travel to Athens, Georgia, in hopes of becoming the 2017 NCAA champion.
The eighth-seeded Cal men’s tennis team earned the opportunity to pursue a national championship after defeating Northwestern on May 13. The Bears (20-7) will face No. 9-seeded North Carolina (26-4) in the quarterfinals. This will be a difficult match for Cal, considering the Tar Heels have just four losses and the Bears lost both their matches against them this season.
Leading Cal will be seniors No. 12 Florian Lakat, No. 61 Andre Goransson and Filip Bergevi. The three have a great deal of experience when it comes to postseason play and understand what it takes to make it far into the tournament.
Lakat, Goransson and Bergevi may be the engines of the team, but there are other cogs in the machine who help the Bears run on all cylinders.
No. 81 junior Billy Griffith has looked strong this season and has been a reliable player on courts three and four for Cal. Fellow junior JT Nishimura has also been playing well and clinched a good number of matches for the Bears this spring. Bjorn Hoffmann, the youngest Bear in the lineup, has been improving match by match and showed potential for the kind of player that he will be in the future.
It’s also worth mentioning the strength of its doubles teams. Lakat and Bergevi are the No. 5 doubles team in the nation and were ranked No. 1 at one point in the season. No. 74 Griffith and Goransson have proved to be reliable for Cal as well.
Despite having such a strong lineup, the Bears have had issues with consistency in the past. It is clear that Cal can compete with any team in the NCAA, but its ability to consistently perform is as important as its actual level of skill.
The Bears will have to worry about both their own performance and a very aggressive North Carolina team. The Tar Heels have one ranked doubles team in the pair of No. 12 freshmen Will Blumberg and Robert Kelly. They also have three ranked singles players in No. 16 Blumberg, No. 22 senior Ronnie Schneider and No. 116 junior Robert Kelly.
North Carolina is coming off of a pair of dominant wins in the Round of 64 and Round of 32 against VCU and South Carolina, respectively. The Tar Heels beat the former 4-0 and the latter 4-1 before advancing to the Sweet 16.
Based purely on rankings, the two appear pretty evenly matched. Although North Carolina has a slightly better record than Cal, it is the postseason, and the playoff atmosphere can have a substantial effect on a player’s performance. This match will be about which team can better rise up to the challenge and perform best when it matters most. Winning means survival, and who doesn’t want to survive?
Taylor Choe covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected]