When you think of California, it is quite likely that you first think of the glitz and glamour associated with Hollywood, or the picture-perfect beaches sprinkled across the coast of SoCal. If one were to bring up the entity that is now known as NorCal, you might immediately think of Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world. What I’m here to tell you is that you should also start to take notice of something else that NorCal has to offer: great collegiate tennis.
The Bears got a taste of SoCal on Friday and Saturday when they hosted the best the region has to offer in the form of No. 1 USC and No. 16 UCLA. This Sunday, the No. 15 Bears will shift their focus to NorCal as they attempt to defend Berkeley from two of the top local teams – Sacramento State and the University of San Francisco. While Cal was certainly the underdog last weekend, it enters as favorites for Sunday’s double-header — but the team certainly isn’t overlooking their competition, however.
“Us being a very good team and highly ranked, I think that they’re going to come out quite pumped and quite energetic, hoping to sneak away a good win. It’s never easy being favored in matches and we’re going to have to buckle down for those guys,” said junior Paul Barretto.
If the Bears are going to take care of business, they will have to be firing on all cylinders. Look for sophomore Yuta Kikuchi to help lead the charge as the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing stretch last time out. In the first home stint of the season, Kikuchi was stifled by UCLA’s Keegan Smith, ranked No. 6 among all singles players in the nation, and USC’s Brandon Holt, ranked No. 24.
“When Yuta doesn’t have his best stuff, then it’s going to be a tough day at the office, but I think that’s a short-term issue for him right now. We have a lot of confidence and faith in him and he’ll be inflicting some pain on others shortly,” said Cal director of men’s tennis Peter Wright.
Wright’s optimism didn’t end there, as he sees Sunday as an opportunity to continue to evaluate the growth of his squad. Hosting one dual match in the morning and then another just hours later tests any team’s willpower, but Wright is confident in his team’s ability to respond to such a challenge.
“That’s a double-header for us. Those are challenging matches for us, both physically and mentally. We’re going to take a look at some different doubles teams in there as well, so we’re going to take advantage of the opportunity to do that against two of the best local teams that we have,” Wright said. “I’m really confident with this group. I really trust their work ethic and how much growing they’re doing and so I’m excited about what’s ahead.”
While Wright looks forward to observing the team’s growth, Barretto wants to see immediate results. At 2-2, Cal has a chance to double its win total and enter its next contest at 4-2, and Barretto is clearly heading into this series with that in mind.
“We’re just going to have to do some overkill — and every single match, every doubles match, every singles match, whether it finishes or we play clinch — everyone’s going to be looking to get a W. We’re not going to try for a 4-0 win, we’re going to try for a 7-0 win,” Barretto said.
If the Bears can make Barretto’s fighting words a reality, they will send shockwaves throughout NorCal. After that, as I said earlier, everyone should take notice.
Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].