After sweating out the qualifiers, Cal will quickly shift focus to the annual San Francisco tournament, the Battle in the Bay Classic. Play will begin Thursday and continue until Sunday, though the draws have yet to be announced.
The qualifiers saw seven Bears, four of whom are freshmen, compete for a spot in this week’s tournament. In the end, Cal junior Derrick Chen was the only one to qualify.
“I think what I really like about the freshmen is that they are, for the most part, very coachable and they are willing to learn. They appreciate the opportunity to be a Bear and … they really use every opportunity to get better,” said head coach Kris Kwinta. “As a coach you always look for the younger generation to step up and fill in those shoes … so I’m looking for the younger guys to really mature and take on the challenge.”
Despite not making any major noise in the qualifiers, freshmen Alex Aney, Jonathan Irwanto, Ethan Schiffman and Tim Stepanov all seemed to have been praised by Kwinta, as he looks to these players to take on the responsibility left behind by those before them.
Nonetheless, Chen will not be the only Bear in the city this week as fellow junior teammates, Alex Chang and Carl Emil Overbeck will be participating together in doubles and singles.
“You can see that (Chen) has put it together over the two years … It’s a tough sport and it’s an individual sport, unlike the team sports where you can replace the player,” Kwinta said. “You have to face the battles all the time by yourself. He’s done that and he’s battled through both years with major situations for himself, so he’s prevailed.”
Chen has shown growth and improvement since his freshman year, and it’s coming to fruition early in his junior year with an appearance at the Battle in the Bay Classic. Although, Chen is not the only member of Cal’s tennis program to attend.
Kwinta, who is entering his third year as head coach, has grown just as much — creating a special relationship with his players.
Though Chang and Overbeck didn’t see the court during the qualifiers, they were fortunate enough to receive a direct invite — landing them a spot in the tournament.
Overbeck is no stranger to the Battle in the Bay Classic, returning for the third straight year in doubles. The California Tennis Club has been fairly fortunate territory for Overbeck, as he has managed to win the tournament’s doubles title for two consecutive years and is aiming to add to his resume with his third.
But, this year, Overbeck will be without his former teammate Yuta Kikuchi.
“Obviously, we have some experience with doubles players and good tennis players, (Overbeck) being one. He won the Battle (in) the Bay last year, so he’s a good player but he played with (Kikuchi) the majority of his career so that’s going to be a new challenge for him to play with somebody else. He’s going to play with Alex Chang so that’s an adjustment for sure, but I think we are all excited for new faces,” Kwinta said.
With the departure of Kikuchi, Overbeck is faced with a change in his doubles’ teammate to begin the young season. Regardless of previous success Overbeck has seen in this tournament, he must make the adjustment of working with a new partner if he wishes to three-peat. The Bears will also most likely experiment with different pairings to see what meshes well, so nothing is set in stone just yet.
Having said that, the blue and gold’s first tournament of the season holds many implications for how competitive Cal will be going forward.