Cal men’s tennis launches season with battle in Stockton

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Update 1/15/19: Cal’s match against Pacific has been postponed due to rain.

For most college teams, “win more” seems like an apt New Year’s resolution, but Cal men’s tennis actually has a real shot at exceptional success this spring. Coming off a productive fall season that saw the Bears take multiple individual titles and reach deep into national tournaments, the players now have to compete as a team.

“There’s a lot of nerves for the guys — everybody’s excited to get the season started,” said men’s tennis director Peter Wright. “With no seniors on the team this year and a lot of starters from last year back, everybody’s played a match except for Yuta Kikuchi, so our guys have an amount of experience even though a majority of guys are sophomores.”

Kikuchi is the youngest player on the team and the only freshman addition to the team, but he proved himself in the fall. He reached the semifinals in singles of the ITA Northwest Regional Championships and upset numerous ranked teams during his run with Jacob Brumm at the ITA All-American Championships and the ITA Fall National Championships.

Wright has indicated that Kikuchi will start, along with most of last year’s starters, in the Bears’ first match. Cal kicks off its season with nonconference foe University of the Pacific in Stockton, California on Tuesday. Last time the two teams met, which was in 2015 in Berkeley, the Bears walked away with a 4-0 sweep.

“This would be our first time going down to the University of the Pacific, playing them at their new facility. So it’s a good way for us to start the year out. We’re trying to get a road matches in,” Wright said. “We’re starting the year out on the road, and I think Pacific’s always a strong team — they have good talent — and it’s the type of match that’ll help us start the spring season off.”

When looking at the season schedule, this match is a testing ground for pairings and positions that will be useful once conference play begins. The Bears will be traveling across the country to Orlando to play Florida State this weekend before heading to College Station, Texas for ITA Kick-Off Weekend the following week.

“There’s a few unknowns, but that’s again why we start off with some nonconference matches to see where we are and give ourselves an opportunity to prepare and have a great conference season as well,” Wright said. “What we do is we try to hone our preparation techniques to make sure that when we do go to play any school that our preparation is appropriate.”

The first conference games are scheduled to be a double-header against UCLA and USC on Feb. 8 and 9, but Wright doesn’t prepare for smaller matches any differently from conference matches.

“In terms of how we approach our matches, I think the only difference we have is a road match versus a home match,” Wright said.

Last year, Cal struggled in conference play, going 3-4 and 12-10 overall. This year, the conference doesn’t look any easier, with USC, UCLA and Stanford all currently ranked in the top 10 of the national rankings. The Bears did, however, get votes in the most recent top-25 poll, so they could get a crack at the rankings if they gain some early-season success.

“We’re a little more seasoned as we approach this match this year,” Wright said. “We feel that we’re growing a lot.”

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