This Thursday, Cal men’s tennis will play in Ojai, California for a shot at the Pac-12 championship. For a young team that heavily emphasized growth this season, it is a chance to show us how much it has truly developed.
Fourth-seeded No. 33 Cal will play fifth seed No. 28 Arizona State in the first round of the nine-team tournament. If the Bears get past the Sun Devils, they will most likely play UCLA, who hold the first seed.
No. 13 UCLA will play the winner of a play-in game between eighth seed Utah and ninth-seeded Oregon. On the other side of the bracket, second seed USC and third-seeded Stanford will play Washington and Arizona, respectively.
Last year, even though Cal was ranked slightly higher at No. 32, it received the fifth seed and played then-No. 35 Oregon in the first round. Just like this year, the Bears had faced their opponents twice during the regular season. In that match, Cal lost a nail biter 4-3 after losing the doubles point, even with Bjorn Hoffmann, Paul Barretto and Jacob Brumm pulling off 3 points for the Bears with victories in their singles matches.
Cal has lost its first round of the tournament two years in a row. The Bears reached the finals in 2016 along with UCLA but failed to clinch the title. The last championship the men’s tennis team won was in 1953.
Heading into the first match, Cal has played Arizona State twice this season with split results. The first time they faced off was the first weekend of Pac-12 play at home for the Bears. They played without Brumm who was out because of injury and without the powerhouse doubles team of Brumm and his partner Yuta Kikuchi — the team lost the doubles point. In a rare display of singles dominance for the Bears, Kikuchi, Jack Molloy, Hoffmann and Ben Draper all defeated their opponents in straight sets to claim the victory.
The next time the two teams met was at the BNP Open Collegiate Tennis Challenge in the third-place match. Brumm and Kikuchi returned for this match and, along with Barretto and Can Kaya, were able to take the doubles point for Cal. The singles, however, were the complete opposite as the first match. Hoffmann and Draper were the only players that were able to defeat their opponents, as the Sun Devils swept the first four courts to win 4-3.
The last two times Cal faced Arizona State, the Sun Devils were unranked, but now, they are at No. 28 as of Tuesday’s polls. They also have a ranked singles player in No. 74 Nathan Ponwith, who is also ranked No. 12 in doubles with his partner Dominik Kellovsky.
The story of the season for the Bears has been inconsistency. This weekend will be a complete toss up for Cal — the team quite possibly has the potential to beat UCLA but could just as easily lose in the first round.
Trilok Reddy covers men’s tennis. Contact him at