Bears break even on road, look to defeat Gaels

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Sunny Shen/Senior Staff

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Nearly a year after its last dual match, Cal men’s tennis finally went back on the road to kick off its spring 2022 season. The Bears visited the University of Tulsa on Saturday, where they narrowly defeated the Golden Hurricane, winning four matches to Tulsa’s three. The Bears went 3-1 in singles competition, while losing two of their three doubles matches. Senior Philip Hjorth clinched the match with a clutch 6-7, 6-3, 6-1 win over Tulsa junior Ezequiel Santalla.

Two days after defeating Tulsa, the Bears visited New Orleans to take on Tulane. The Bears suffered a tough defeat Monday as they went 3-4, including 2-2 in singles competition and 1-2 in doubles competition. The deciding match saw freshman Derrick Chen falling to Tulane sophomore Rafael de Alba in a grueling three-setter: 6-7, 7-6, 6-2.

The doubles team of Carl Emil Overbeck and Yuta Kikuchi, the 15th-ranked team in the country, was the only team to win both of its matches over the weekend. This included defeating the 60th-ranked team in the nation, Connor Di Marco and Kody Pearson of Tulsa, 7-5. The other doubles teams for Cal lost their four matches.

“We are still trying to learn each other and glue in doubles,” said Cal’s first-year head coach Kris Kwinta. “Our No. 1 doubles is the bright spot obviously. I think the guys need to figure a few things out, and we need to spend a bit more time on the practice court and work on certain situations and plays.”

In his first weekend as a Bear, BYU graduate transfer — originally hailing from Berkeley — Sean Hill went 1-3 overall, including 1-1 in singles and 0-2 in doubles.

“The guys are very accepting of him,” Kwinta said. “It takes time. Obviously, he’s been with different teams for five years. … From our conversations, he’s enjoying his early days. We’re happy to have him here.”

Kwinta has also added former world No. 48 and enrolled Cal student Jared Donaldson to his coaching staff as a volunteer.

“Most importantly, the guys like him and enjoy his company and his humor. He’s a funny guy, and he brings a lot of experience and a lot of value. He’s very respected by the guys, so he’s a huge addition for our kids,” Kwinta said.

After splitting their opening road matches, the Bears will face St. Mary’s College on Saturday in their first home match at the Hellman Tennis Complex since hosting SMC more than a year ago. This will be Kwinta’s first home match as head coach for the Bears.

“Looking forward to the home crowd,” Kwinta said. “It’s an exciting time for myself and for the guys that really enjoy being on the court together. Just to see their faces, just to see their passion to play, warms my heart.”

Absent from the two road matches was freshman and Berkeley High School alumnus Alex Chang, who took this time to recover from an abdominal strain suffered in the Hawaii Invitational. The Bears are hopeful that Chang will return for their match against the Gaels.

“I’m sure he’s eager to jump on the court again. We wish he was there with us, but it was better for him to stay behind and work with Elaine (Cal’s athletic trainer) and take care of his injury,” Kwinta said.

Fellow Berkeley High alumnus and freshman Michael Wright was limited to doubles competition on the road, but he looks to return to singles competition against the Gaels.

The Gaels do not have any ranked players. The Bears will look to build on their performances in Tulsa and Tulane and pull out the win at home to improve their record to 2-1.

Abhi Erra covers men’s tennis. Contact him at [email protected].