Any sports fan knows it’s not uncommon for individuals or teams to have hot streaks when performing at an elite level. What is far less common and ultimately defines the best in any given sport is the ability to maintain that level throughout multiple competitions or seasons.
The Cal men’s tennis team had a successful showing at the Battle in the Bay Classic last week, which included a run to the singles’ semifinal by senior Philip Hjorth and a doubles title courtesy of senior Yuta Kikuchi and freshman Carl Emil Overbeck. These victories made it clear that the Bears are certainly capable of competing with the best teams in the country. Now, the blue and gold will seek to show they can produce this high level of tennis consistently at the Chowder Fest tournament at Harvard’s Beren Tennis Center starting Friday.
Cal’s lineup at the annual Cambridge tournament will include Hjorth, Kikuchi, Overbeck and Lucas Magnaudet, who all competed at the Battle in the Bay, as well as sophomore Noah Gampel and freshman Michael Wright, who will make their collegiate tennis debuts for the Bears at the event. Hailing from Malibu, Gampel was a five-star recruit ranked as high as 49th in his graduating class, according to TennisRecruiting.net. Meanwhile, Wright is a local who attended Berkeley High School.
Over the three-day span of the tournament, Cal could potentially face Florida, Arizona State and Harvard. Notably, the Gators defeated Baylor to claim the national championship last season and enter this season as one of the, if not the, biggest powerhouses in men’s collegiate tennis. Their roster sports six players in the top 90 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, or ITA, preseason singles ranking, including defending individual national champion Sam Riffice at No. 2. Further, the duo of Riffice and Ben Shelton is one of three Gator doubles pairings included in the top 60 of the ITA preseason doubles ranking.
While the Gators appear to be the favorites in the tournament on paper, both the Sun Devils and the Crimson are certainly forces to be reckoned with. The Crimson are on the heels of an impressive showing at the Milwaukee Tennis Classic last weekend, where sophomore Henry von der Schulenburg took home the singles title and senior Brian Shi scored an upset over LSU’s first-seeded Ronald Hohmann, who was 24th in the ITA preseason rankings.
The Sun Devils, on the other hand, opened their fall season simultaneously at the Battle in the Bay and the Larry Easley Memorial Classic at UNLV. Arizona State saw limited success from the two players it sent to the Battle in the Bay, with 51st-ranked Louisville transfer Fabien Salle and freshman Nicola Cigna falling in the first round of the singles main draw and the singles qualifying draw, respectively.
Additionally, the duo of Cigna and Salle fell to the Cal pairing of Hjorth and Magnaudet in the first round of the doubles qualifying event. In Las Vegas, however, the Sun Devils nearly struck jackpot, with sophomore Spencer Brachman falling a single match short of capturing the top singles flight trophy at the Larry Easley Memorial Classic. Led by head coach Matt Hill, Arizona State will look to find the level of tennis that saw it upset Stanford en route to an appearance in the finals of the Pac-12 tournament last year.
For a blue and gold squad that has undergone relatively significant coaching and roster changes during the pandemic, the looming question is whether or not it can maintain the elite caliber of tennis the program has historically been accustomed to. Nevertheless, the team is confident in its ability to succeed.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of change,” Hjorth said. “But I feel like the team has really just come together. You can feel the team’s camaraderie and energy has never gone away.”