The Cal men’s tennis team has one last chance this week to jump back into the nation’s top 16. But its chance may be riding on a hypothetical matchup in the semifinals against No. 4 USC.
This week, from April 25 to 28, the No. 18 Bears will compete at the Pac-12 Tournament in Ojai, Calif. The conference tournament consists of a double-bye format, with the top two seeds receiving automatic bids to the semifinal rounds.
As the No. 3 seed, the Bears (13-8, 5-1 in the Pac-12) received a first-round bye to the quarterfinals and will kick off their weekend on Thursday at 2 p.m.
In the second round, the Cal squad will play the winners of the Wednesday matchup between Oregon and Utah — the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds, respectively.
The Bears already crushed both the Ducks (16-7) and the Utes (12-11) earlier this season. After winning the doubles point against Oregon, Cal went on to notch three more points in singles with its domination of the top half of the lineup on April 5. The Bears had an even easier time defeating Utah on April 12, swiftly taking the first four points to clinch their 6-1 victory.
Even if the Bears can clinch their first match in the Pac-12 Tournament, they may be stopped in their tracks during the semifinals. There, the Bears will take on second-seeded USC — the four-time defending NCAA champion. It is the only team to have swept the Bears this season.
If Cal manages to make its way back into the top 16, it will have the opportunity to host three other squads for the first two rounds of the NCAA Team Championships.
Then, the Bears will be able to kick off the NCAAs with a definite home-court advantage — a luxury the team has held on to for the past two years.
“The Pac-12 Tournament has significant value for all the teams playing because the matches still count towards your ranking,” said Cal coach Peter Wright.
But interestingly for the Bears, winning the Pac-12 Championships is not as crucial as clinching their first two matches in the tournament.
In 2012, the Pac-12 conference changed the tournament format to make the competition team-based instead of having the singles and doubles players compete individually. The team that wins all four rounds of the championship tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships held in May.
But the Bears already clinched their berth to the NCAAs when they won their match against Utah on April 12. After crushing the Utes in a 6-1 victory, the Cal squad solidified a greater than .500 winning percentage, rendering it eligible for the NCAAs.
Because the Bears already have their bid, their main focus this week will be to clinch their first two matches at the tournament to solidify getting in the top 16.
And with the Bears currently riding a five-game win streak into the Pac-12 Championships, Wright is confident that the Bears’ momentum will help them reach their goal.
“I’m excited for our prospects,” Wright said. “We want to make it a nice long weekend.”
Janice Chua covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].