Winter is coming.
For “Game of Thrones” fans, it means that the Starks of Winterfell are coming. For students, it means that the end of finals and a much-needed break alongside friends and family is coming. For Cal men’s tennis, it means a chance to craft the team’s blueprint is here because spring is coming.
“What’s important going into the spring season is to keep taking the process that we’ve developed over the last few months and continuing to strive for improvement. The motivation will be there and we’re going to continue working on the little things. That’s going to make us a better team come January,” said associate head coach Tyler Browne.
Browne attended the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships in Newport Beach last week with sophomore Yuta Kikuchi, junior Ben Draper, and senior Bjorn Hoffmann. Across the country, Peter Wright, the director of men’s tennis, coached the rest of the participating team members in Cambridge, Mass. at Harvard’s annual Chowder Fest over the weekend.
With the team concluding its fall season this past weekend, Wright is already jumping at the thought of tinkering with a deep lineup to create potential personnel groups.
“That’s the exciting part of the job. This team has tremendous depth and we have a really talented group of players, so it gives us some exciting things to look at for the spring,” Wright said.
The team’s depth was on full display this past weekend as 10 out of 11 players received match time. In Newport Beach, Calif., it was a disappointing end to a strong fall season for Kikuchi, who was battling illness, as he fell in the round of 64 opener to Tulane’s Ewan Moore. Kikuchi followed that up with another loss in the consolation round of 32 to Tulsa’s Kody Pearson.
Although Browne and Kikuchi had both hoped for more, they acknowledge what Kikuchi accomplished up to this point.
“He’s playing the right way. I think he’s becoming a better player by staying aggressive and sticking to his process,” Browne said.
On the bright side, the new doubles duo of Draper and Hoffmann continued to impress in just their second tournament together. After a three-set upset victory over the nation’s No. 13-ranked pair of Richard Ciamarra and Tristan McCormick from Notre Dame, the Bears battled but fell to a team from Ohio State in the round of 32.
“They walked off the courts with their heads held high and looking toward the future. I think they wish they could play another tournament together this weekend to continue to prove to themselves that they are a team to be reckoned with,” Browne said on the Bears’ new tandem.
In Cambridge, seven players took the court for Cal, with each receiving three singles matches and three doubles matches. While the results from Cambridge don’t have implications for team seeding, the experience was still invaluable.
“It gives our guys some outcomes and results that show that they’ve been working hard this fall. We are going to see players of that caliber throughout the year. I think the level of competition was just right for us,” Wright said.
In a tournament that included Harvard, Cornell, Indiana and Virginia Tech, the Bears still claimed the doubles runner-up slot behind a 2-1 bracket record from juniors Paul Barretto and Can Kaya.
Asked to sum up the team’s overall fall performance in a single word, the coaches had different choices.
“Progress. Tennis is a sport where there’s not one style that makes a successful player, so each guy has got something a little bit different and each time they go on the court, they’re working on something individually,” Browne said.
Although Wright had a different response, he echoed Browne’s sentiments.
“High-quality. I think it was just high-quality play,” Wright said.
The Bears may be entering hibernation mode right now, but don’t be surprised when they awaken recovered and hungrier come springtime. Winter is coming, but Cal is growing strong and the great war is yet to come.
Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].