For the first time in four years, Cal men’s tennis is back in the NCAA championship. The Bears had a winning season, coming away with a 12-10 record and some impressive wins.
Ranked No. 29 heading into nationals, Cal will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and face No. 33 LSU in the first round Saturday.
When it comes to their respective records, neither team has earned considerable bragging rights. LSU boasts a 14-10 record on the season, though it underwhelmed in the SEC conference season, going 4-8. Cal’s 12-10 record includes a 4-4 conference record, featuring losses to Washington, Stanford, Utah and Arizona.
Cal’s most recent stint at the Pac-12 championship also did not prove fruitful, as Cal lost to Stanford in the first round of the tournament. Earlier in the season, though, Cal pulled off a monumental upset on its home courts, winning 4-3 against the then-No. 13 Cardinal.
While this is the Bears’ first national championship since 2019, this will be the Tigers’ third consecutive nationals appearance — but their first under the reins of head coach Danny Bryan. While there’s something to be said for the fact that Cal is a relatively inexperienced team in the national championship, this competition — although with higher stakes — is not unlike others it has participated in this season.
There are only four teams in this regional tournament, as it is one of 16 around the country. This format is similar to the ITA Kickoff Weekend, where four teams are hosted ahead of the ITA Indoor national championship. In this year’s Kickoff Weekend, Cal faced off against then-No. 6 Texas, and though the Bears did not win, it was a valuable experience in playing top teams at high stakes.
Cal did not end the regular season on a high note, which could potentially make it difficult as the Bears are lacking a winning rhythm. A loss against Washington to end the regular season followed by an early exit from the Pac-12 tournament is not necessarily a recipe for success going into a national championship.
But then again, it might be the wake-up call the Bears need.
If the Bears beat LSU, they will face the winner of No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 73 Toledo. While this will certainly be a tough tournament for the Bears, college tennis is unpredictable enough to make anything possible.