Bears continue to show promise at ITA All-American Championships

photo of a Cal mens tennis player during a match
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After the Cal men’s tennis team walked away with the doubles title at the Battle in the Bay classic in mid-September, interim head coach Amanda Augustus noted that the fall collegiate tennis tournaments are an important opportunity for players to establish themselves among the best players in the country. Three Bears took additional strides towards accomplishing just that this week at the ITA All-American Championships at Tulsa’s Michael D. Case Tennis Center, where they notched several impressive wins over high-profile opponents.

The Bears started their campaign at the All-American Championships in the prequalifying singles draw, where freshman Carl Emil Overbeck and senior Phillip Hjorth vied for a spot in the main singles qualifying draw.

Being one of the No. 17 to 32 seeds in the pre-qualifying event, Overbeck earned a bye in the first round. Hjorth, however, needed to push past Texas A&M’s Anish Sriniketh in a third-set tiebreaker in order to join Overbeck in the second round. Later that day, the blue and gold duo each won their second round matches to move within two wins of a spot in the qualifying draw, with Overbeck defeating Texas’ Evin McDonald and Hjorth edging past Wake Forest’s Juan Lopez de Azcona in yet another three-set battle.

The following day, Hjorth withdrew from his round of 64 encounter with Charlotte’s Thomas Brown due to injury. Overbeck, however, earned a three-set victory over UCLA’s Stefan Leustian, whose illustrious junior career included winning the prestigious Les Petites As tournament in France as a 14-year-old. The Danish freshman was unable to continue his winning streak the later that day, though, as he fell to LSU’s Gabriel Diaz Freire in a narrow three-set contest.

Despite falling one match short of earning a spot in the qualifying draw in the traditional way, Overbeck was given a “lucky loser” spot into the main qualifying event, where he joined Cal senior Yuta Kikuchi. He capitalized on this lifeline by pushing past North Carolina’s Mac Kiger in the first round of qualifying before bowing out of the tournament with a loss to Central Florida’s Trey Hilderbrand. Nevertheless, Overbeck’s overall winning record at one of the biggest national tournaments of the season is a sign of bigger things to come for the freshman.

“It’s hard being a freshman at Cal, and it’s even harder being an international student-athlete,” Augsutus said. “(Overbeck) has done a really good job of being open to coaching and he works really hard.”

In other singles qualifying action, Kikuchi won his first two rounds before dropping a 6-1 7-5 decision to Pepperdine’s 117th-ranked Daniel de Jonge. With the loss, Kikuchi fell one match short of earning a spot in the main singles draw. However, Kikuchi’s run to the final round of qualifying included a dominant win over South Florida’s 47th-ranked Chase Ferguson, who was the top seed in the draw.

“(Kikuchi)’s just starting to get into his groove,” Augustus said. “I think by the end of the season he’s definitely going to be someone to watch not only teamwise but for singles and doubles in the NCAA individual tournament.”

Kikuchi also teamed up with Overbeck in the doubles qualifying event, where they saw off Harvard’s pairing of Henry von der Schulenburg and Harris Walker in straight sets before losing a tight two-set match to Texas’ Richard Ciamarra and Cleeve Harper.

The Bears will next turn their attention to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos Classic, which kicks off at the Arnhold Tennis Center on Friday and runs through Sunday. While Kikuchi, Hjorth and Overbeck have been the primary faces representing the Cal in their fall tournaments thus far, the blue and gold will be led by some fresh faces in Isla Vista this weekend. Specifically, Bears’ roster will include Noah Gampel, Lucas Magnaudet, Michael Wright and Alex Chang, who will make his collegiate debut for Cal.

Milad Shafaie covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].