Bears aim high at nationals in Arizona to close out fall season

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Coming into this fall season, Cal men’s tennis was hoping to see how much its young team had improved from last spring. This week they may get an answer, as three star sophomores and a breakout freshman will represent Cal at the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships this week. Sophomores Paul Barretto, Jacob Brumm, and Can Kaya along with freshman Yuta Kikuchi will fly out this afternoon to the tournament in Surprise, AZ.

“This tournament is the culmination of the fall for our guys,” Men’s Tennis Director Peter Wright said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, it’s the finish of the individual season, and then we really start looking and shaping our energy towards the spring season.”

The field of players is composed of singles and doubles winners of other prominent tournaments, such as regional ITA tournaments or the ITA All-American tournament, in addition to several at-large bids.

Kikuchi received one of these at-large bids in singles, while the pairing of Kikuchi and Brumm received one in doubles. Initially, the duo of Kaya and Barretto were listed as the first alternates, but were given a spot after another team withdrew. Currently, Brumm is also listed as the third alternate in singles.

“The four guys that are going have had very strong fall seasons both in singles and in doubles,” Wright said.

64 singles players along with 32 doubles teams will participate in the five day tournament that begins Wednesday at 8:00am.

Notable teams that are also sending players to the National Championships and may face the Bears include five singles players and two doubles teams from USC, two singles players and a doubles pairing from Oregon and two doubles partnerships from Washington. Three singles players from Stanford will attend the tournament, but no doubles teams qualified.

Cal also has the potential opportunity to rematch against some close personal rivals, including Oregon’s Emmanuel Coste, who beat Kikuchi in the semifinals of the ITA Northwest Regionals last month. Additionally, Stanford’s Sameer Kumar and Washington’s Jack Davis/Piers Foley who beat Brumm and Kaya/Barretto, respectively, in the same tournament, will all be attending the National Championships.

“We’re excited about any matches we get there. I think our guys have been planning and preparing for this, we’ve had some great weather, we’ve had some wonderful practices the last couple of weeks, so our guys are ready to go and we don’t really care who the opposition is. We’re ready to play,” said Wright.

The Bears are already looking better than last year, when only three players qualified for nationals. Billy Griffith, J.T. Nishimura, and Jack Malloy all lost in the first round of last year’s tournament in Indian Wells, CA, so there is nowhere for the Bears to go but up.

“This team has improved tremendously in the last year,” Wright said. “This is a team that’s growing up, it is making progress, and when these sophomores playing so strong, this is a class of guys that’s going to be amazing for us for the next few years.”

With the end of this tournament, so ends the Bear’s fall season. An ITA players ranking poll will be released after the National Championships on November 14, which will be heavily influenced by this week’s outcomes.

“After this we really go into playing as a team, we go into more into of our team format,” Wright said.

Trilok Reddy covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].