Battle of beasts: Wolfpack, Bears on the prowl

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Bears and wolves are very different predators. Bears use their brute strength to hunt alone, while wolves use their savvy and spirit to travel in packs. Whereas bears rely on power and intimidation, wolves use their quickness and numbers to attack when least expected. But there is one thing the two beasts share: they are both always a threat to their prey.

On Saturday, fans will discover who is predator and who is prey when Nevada visits Cal. The 4-2 Bears, who had a bye last weekend, are looking to once again defend their den at Hellman Tennis Complex, a feat they’ve been able to accomplish in three of their last four home stands.

The 6-3 Wolf Pack, on the other hand, has split its last two matchups, both of which have been in Northern California.

Nevada’s last victory was a 5-2 affair against Sacramento State on Sunday. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Cal blanked the Hornets as part of their home double-header sweep on Feb. 9. Per the latest ITA poll, which was released Tuesday, the Bears sit at No. 22 while the Wolf Pack isn’t accounted for in the top 50. But Cal isn’t overlooking the challenge Nevada poses.

“Reno is a good team. They’re well-coached. We know we have a battle every time out. For us, all of these matches are building toward getting ready for the Pac-12 season, getting ready for the postseason and getting ready for the NCAA,” said director of Cal men’s tennis Peter Wright. “So we look at Reno as another one of the challenges along the way. We have a lot of respect for them, so it’ll be a … hard-fought match.”

In the bye week, the Bears got some extra rest, but also made the most of their time off. To stay sharp and keep their opponents — and themselves — on their toes, Wright looked to both his coaching staff and his players.

“We try some new things. We’re always exploring ways to get better. We integrate what some of the guys have to add to the equation as well, so we make the process of development a collaborative one,” Wright said. “There’s a lot of growth for us as coaches, and for the guys at the same time, and there’s a lot of discovery, so it’s a lot of fun.”

One of the players who has helped out in that process of discovery is senior Bjorn Hoffmann. As one of three seniors on the roster, Hoffmann is cherishing every match he has left in Berkeley and knows how important it is to continue improving during rest weeks. The senior sits at 8-4 in singles matches this season, and has accrued a 13-5 record in doubles. He has been particularly effective when paired with junior Ben Draper, as the tandem is ranked No. 26.

When asked what fans should anticipate against the Wolf Pack, Hoffmann kept it short and sweet.

“Definitely a lot of energy. A lot of confidence. Big serves. Big forehands. And hopefully a win,” Hoffmann said.

After a productive two weeks of collaborative practice, the team is cautiously confident coming out of hibernation. Just like in the wilderness, the Bears and the Wolf Pack will be going at it tooth-and-nail on Saturday — and only one will be left standing at the end.

Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].