The words “consistency” and “tradition” are part of the vocabulary of the Cal men’s tennis team. This fall season, the Bears reigned in the Northwest. The team’s talent has been ever-growing, with the squad’s veteran players maturing and the new recruits providing glimpses of promise. Almost always bringing back a title from regional tournaments, Cal can proudly look back on its accomplishments, though it must maintain its ambition once the highly competitive Pac-12 spring season starts.
The Bears entered the fall season with two ranked players in the preseason ITA polls. Senior Ben McLachlan sought an elusive win at the ITA All-American Tournament in Tulsa, Okla., a tournament he never made past the first round in the past two tries. McLachlan never realized this goal, falling out in the first round 6-4, 7-6 (4) to North Carolina’s qualifier Ronnie Schneider.
For the majority of the season, McLachlan remained away from collegiate competition, due largely to an ankle injury he picked up at the beginning of the season. Instead, McLachlan gained match play experience with his wildcard appearances at the nearby challenger tournaments in Napa and Tiburon, Calif. McLachlan’s best result was a second-round exit in the qualifying round at Tiburon.
The ankle injury was serious enough for McLachlan to withdraw from the ITA Northwest Regionals, where he was the defending singles and doubles champion. According to head coach Peter Wright, this move was more strategic than reactionary; McLachlan pulled out to focus on training for the spring season, when the team’s national ranking will be on the line. He is expected to return to full health.
Replacing McLachlan as the top player was senior Campbell Johnson. Like McLachlan, Johnson had his share of injuries, especially during the first few weeks of the season — but Johnson soon established himself as the one to beat. By the end of the season, Johnson’s results sheet featured a second-round appearance at the All-American, a Regionals singles crown and a spot in the finals at San Francisco’s Battle of the Bay — all noteworthy feats, as they signaled Cal’s dominance in Northern California.
Yet even Johnson is not without his losses, with the most surprising one coming at Battle of the Bay. Expected to win the tournament as the No. 1 seed, Johnson lost the title spectacularly to his fellow teammate, freshman Andre Goransson, 6-0, 6-2.
As much as Goransson’s title win underlines the uncertainty of Cal’s singles lineup for the spring, it also signifies the talent of the Bears’ freshman and transfer recruiting class, which each have important wins to their name. Freshman Filip Bergevi pulled a major upset against former UCLA star Dennis Novikov at the Tiburon Challenger. Sophomore Mads Engsted reached the finals of the UC Davis Aggie Invitational, and Northwestern junior transfer Nikhil Jayashankar won the USCB Classic singles title, thus giving Cal back-to-back claiming rights to the tournament.
This kind of consistency and depth of the team’s talent pool earned Cal another triple crown at the ITA Northwest Championships. Without many hiccups, the squad garnered a singles title, a doubles title — from the newly formed duo of juniors Gregory Bayane and Chase Melton — and the team title. The doubles and team title were Cal’s fifth in six years.
That is not to say that the Bears have a long spring season ahead of them. Despite the collection of titles from the fall season, Cal has been prone to losses, both expected and unexpected. Players have yet to go deep in the draws of national tournaments, and Division I teams, Pac-12 or not, have given Cal trouble — notably Oregon and UC Davis. If all goes as well as the fall season, the Bears are projected to place third in the Pac-12 conference behind national powerhouses USC and UCLA.
Jennifer Yu covers men’s tennis. Contact her at [email protected].