“Which school is that? Never heard of it before.” “You should have stuck to gambling – this isn’t Texas Hold’em.” “Get this game and it’s Pappy’s on me.” And of course, “Go Bears!”
These were all sayings hurled at Nevada and Cal players on Saturday, a day that couldn’t quite decide if it was sunny or cloudy. While many of these one-liners crossed the border of what most consider proper etiquette when attending a tennis match, they got the job done. And so did the Bears.
While Wolf Pack players such as Julien Evrard were visibly and audibly frustrated with this particularly vocal group of fans, Cal’s players fed off the energy that was in the air at the Hellman Tennis Complex, exiting the match just as they came into it: red-hot.
After blanking both Sacramento State and San Francisco in their last matches on February 9, the Bears kept on rolling on Saturday. This time, their target was a Nevada team that frankly looked overwhelmed and overmatched, falling 7-0 in Berkeley. Even after victory was clinched at 4-0, both coaches opted to finish out all matches to provide extra reps. Cal never considered taking its foot off of the gas.
“We’re playing with a lot more maturity. We’re approaching matches with a much more consistent attitude and an intent to improve,” said junior Jack Molloy.
Such determination is crafted only through hours and hours of putting in work during practices. While Molloy acknowledged that there has been a newfound laser focus in practice this year as compared to his previous two collegiate seasons, it was his coach who lauded the team’s concentration throughout last week’s bye.
“Last week was a really good week of practice for us. We’ve been focusing on certain skills in singles and doubles to help our guys be more aggressive and be more effective in how they’re performing on the court,” said Cal director of men’s tennis Peter Wright. “It’s showing in the matches that we’re going out and playing.”
The importance of practice cannot be understated, especially when it comes to trying out new tactics. In the absence of junior Jacob Brumm, Molloy has stepped up as sophomore Yuta Kikuchi’s doubles partner, and the pair has found instant success.
“This is the first semester that we’ve practiced doubles together. We’re improving with each match. It’s not perfect yet. I’ve been enjoying it and I’m sure we’re going to get better,” Molloy said.
Kikuchi and Molloy played both singles and doubles on Saturday. Together, they clinched the doubles point for the Bears on court three, and individually, each won in straight sets. Being asked to play both singles and doubles is no easy task as players prepare differently for the respective styles.
“For singles, I do a little more visualization and focus on my actual opponents whereas doubles, you can play a little more of a one-dimensional game style against each team you play,” Molloy said. “There’s a set pattern that if you play well, you’ll usually win, but for singles, you have to be a little more adaptable and that’s why I have prepare for it a little bit more.”
The preparation is paying off up and down the roster, as Cal won 14 of the 15 sets they played in on Saturday. One set was left unfinished, but senior Bjorn Hoffmann and junior Ben Draper were up 5-3 and on the verge of securing a perfect day for the Bears.
With the team firing on all cylinders, their ability to hold momentum will be tested as they don’t compete again until March 5 in La Jolla. This Saturday, Cal showed it had no problem using a bye week to get better, and now, it’s time to see if they can do it again.
Kabir Rao covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].