Cal men’s tennis faced the final and largest loop of its rollercoaster season in the thrilling NCAA championship tournament, in which the Bears upset North Carolina State before falling to Texas in Longhorn territory.
No. 34 Cal started the tournament off with a bang against No. 24 North Carolina State. Although the team lost the doubles point, falling on courts one and three, the Bears rebounded, bringing some of the strongest singles play of their season to the court.
“We came back and played a really sound match in singles, and that was led by our two seniors, Billy Griffith and J.T. (Nishimura),” said director of Cal men’s tennis Peter Wright. “While we might have lost a couple matches going into the postseason, I think we were prepared to peak at the NCAAs, and I felt that we played a very good match that day against North Carolina State.”
Though Cal won the first set on each of the six courts during singles play, the Bears were far from letting up. Nishimura evened the score with a 6-3, 6-1 win before Griffith and freshman Ben Draper also swept their respective opponents.
With Cal’s overall 3-1 lead not even in mind, freshman Paul Barretto clinched the 4-1 win as he toppled the Wolves’ freshman Robert Turzak.
“It’s important to try to not look at the scoreboard as much as you can but just to focus on your own match,” Paul Barretto said. “I was just trying to figure mine out before worrying about other people’s matches.”
The Bears spent whatever remained of the day cooling down in ice baths before getting fired up again for the round of 32 match against Texas the following day.
The Longhorns welcomed the Bears on Saturday to their home courts, where Cal started the match by repeating recent history from just the previous day’s events. Sophomore Dominic Barretto and freshman Can Kaya fell on court three before Texas’s No. 39 pair upset No. 33 Nishimura and Griffith to clinch the doubles point.
“Texas is a really good team and their doubles is really, really solid. Ours is, too, but we just happened to lose it that day,” Paul Barretto said. “Whenever we lose the dubs point, it’s important to be the first ones to bite back in singles and show them we’re not going away.”
Hoping for similar success in singles as the day before, Cal took to the courts still optimistic. Nishimura and Draper both won their first sets, but that wasn’t enough — the Longhorns pushed past the Bears with wins over Paul Barretto and fellow freshmen Jack Molloy and Jacob Brumm, concluding Cal’s season with a 4-0 loss.
While the season is over for the team, the two seniors still have an opportunity to compete in one last hurrah. Griffith will play in the NCAA singles championship that begins May 23 and will also play in the NCAA doubles championship with partner Nishimura starting May 24.
“From our standpoint, we focus on the positives that Billy and J.T. brought to the court and the positives that our young squad put out there,” Wright said. “We are excited about the future, about how we played this year and what we learned.”
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].