Bears take team title at fall regional championships

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It’s easier to stay cool under pressure when the stakes don’t overwhelm the moment, as evidenced by the Cal men’s tennis team walking away with the team title once again at the ITA Regional Championships in Stockton this past weekend. It is the fall preseason after all, and Cal head coach Peter Wright made sure to head into the weekend by keeping his players relaxed and focused.

This is a tournament that Cal has traditionally had great success at, but the title isn’t always a given, and the Bears had to battle against Pac-12 rivals Stanford, Washington and Oregon.

“Winning the team trophy is always nice because our region is very strong,” Wright said.

It’s a hard feat for top seeds to run through a 64-player draw and win the title; even pros cannot win tournaments on a weekly basis. For senior Billy Griffith, the top seed in the singles draw, a perfect weekend of play could not be completed. He bowed out in the quarterfinals of singles to San Francisco senior Johan Jonhagen 7-6(4), 6-2, a minor disappointment for a No. 1 seed who has had success against Pac-12 competition.

He did make up for an early individual exit by reaching the final of the doubles draw with his partner, senior J.T. Nishimura, who sat out from singles competition to rest a minor injury and focus on doubles.

As the No. 1 seed, Griffith and Nishimura fell to in the final to Oregon’s third-seeded senior Cormac Clissold and junior Thomas Laurent 6-2, 7-6(7). Because of their loss, the duo did not automatically qualify for nationals, but they appealed for a wildcard spot in the draw.

It was successful weekend for Wright and his team, which entered the regionals with no overbearing expectations. His laissez faire approach very well benefitted his freshmen players especially, and the stress free environment led to good results.

So far, freshman Jack Molloy is the only automatic qualifier for nationals. Taking advantage of a more open draw, Molloy made an unexpected run to the singles final as the fifth seed, losing to second-seeded Michail Pervolarakis 6-1, 7-6(5) of Portland. Molloy defeated seeded opponents in the quarter and semifinals before finishing as runner-up.

Freshman Paul Barretto also had an impressive run over the weekend, surging into the semifinals of singles before also falling to the eventual champion Pervolarakis, 6-3, 6-2.

“The investment we have made and the effort that the guys have put in is really starting to show,” Wright said. “It’s a great group, a very tightly knit group, and a very talented group of freshmen.”

The Bears will not play at the Pacific Tiger Invitational this weekend as scheduled. Having gotten sufficient match play the past few weeks, and for the majority of the roster that will not be playing in the ITA Fall National Championships, the focus now turns toward offseason training and using notes and experiences from fall play to ready the team for the spring season.

The Bears want to remain low-key. They want to remain a team that people are counting out because of their youth and inexperience, but the talent is undeniable, and the spring could yield surprising results that we have glimpsed already this fall.

Charlie Griffen covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].