A team is prone to yield unexpected or even lackluster results in its first tournament of the season, especially when it is still considered to be the offseason, too. This was not case for Cal men’s tennis this weekend, though. With a young and inexperienced team, it was the seniors who stepped up with impressive play against quality competition this past weekend at the Audi Napa Valley Tennis Classic.
Cal players battled against Pacific, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Baylor and its perennial Pac-12 foe, USC. These fall tournaments emphasize individual play and give Cal players the opportunity to play against a wide variety of opponents.
Seniors Billy Griffith and JT Nishimura swept through their respective round robin groups with 3-0 records. Griffith, ranked 49th, claimed wins over Baylor freshman Sven Lah, 6-4, 6-2, Pacific sophomore Tadiwa Chinamo, 6-1, 1-6, 6-1 and USC redshirt sophomore Jake DeVine, 7-5, 7-5. Nishimura swept through Sooner freshman Jake Van Emburgh, 7-5, 7-5, Notre Dame sophomore Guillermo Cabrera, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and USTA junior Alex Lee, 6-2, 7-6(4).
Both Griffith and Nishimura fell in tight matches in the shootout in which they advanced, but their group stage wins are what will set the tone for the rest of the fall season.
Not only did Griffith and Nishimura excel in singles, but the pair also swept through both doubles matches they played together. The 39th ranked duo made easy work of Notre Dame’s sophomore Matt Gamble and junior Alex Lebedev and Oklahoma’s junior Alexander Bakshi and sophomore Jochen Bertsch by 6-2 and 6-1 score lines, respectively.
The Bears will need to have these seniors lead the way into the regular spring season, where many spots are up for grabs in the starting lineup.
“We have a very young team, we have more freshmen than sophomores juniors and seniors combined, so the senior leadership is going to be crucial this year,” said Cal head coach Peter Wright. “Billy and JT are both stepping up to provide that right from the get go”.
Freshman Jack Molloy, the lone freshman to play this weekend, established himself within the heralded freshmen group. Molloy went 2-1 in his group, and although he did not advance to the shootout round, his victories were impressive nonetheless. Molloy upset USC senior Thibault Forget, 7-5 6-3, who entered the match ranked 96th in the ITA singles poll.
“(Molloy) beat one of USC’s starting players, right out of the shoot so that’s great for Jack and so far he has been very strong” said Wright. “(Molloy) and all of our freshmen are part of a group that we are investing heavily in, and how they fit into the spring will depend on how they play this fall”.
Sophomore Bjorn Hoffmann was the only other Bear to see action this past weekend as well. His weekend was highlighted by a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over USTA junior Andres Martin. Hoffman and Molloy also paired up in doubles play, ending the weekend with two close losses.
The Bears look to continue this form in further tournament play this weekend, as well as get more of its roster match play experience.