After struggling through the Pac-12 season with a 2-6 record, No. 50 Cal men’s tennis still had a chance to become champions and qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning the Pac-12 championship tournament. Unfortunately for Cal — seeded seventh in the tournament — it had to face a team that it had already lost to twice this season: No. 13 USC.
Both previous matches were close. On Feb. 6 in Berkeley, senior Yuta Kikuchi was a few points away from defeating Trojan junior Stefan Dostanic (No. 6 in singles at the time) to tie the match at 3-3 before freshman Derrick Chen lost his match. On March 25 in Los Angeles, with the match score at 2-3, Cal sophomore Lucas Magnaudet had USC graduate Paul Barretto at 5-3 in the third set before senior Philip Hjorth lost the dual match after losing a tightly contested third-set tiebreak.
Despite the heartbreaking outcomes of Cal’s first two outings against USC, the Pac-12 championship in Ojai was supposed to represent somewhat of a fresh start for the Bears. All the struggles the squad had endured throughout the Pac-12 season could be erased by a tournament win.
But Cal lost to second-seeded USC, 4-0.
“Even though we didn’t qualify for the NCAA tournament, I think that the knowledge and experiences we take with us from the season are invaluable,” said head coach Kris Kwinta.
Cal lost the doubles point after freshmen Chen and Carl Emil Overbeck lost their match to freshman Peter Makk and sophomore Lodewijk Westrate, 1-6.
Cal had chances in singles to make up for losing the doubles point despite No. 93 Kikuchi losing to No. 5 Dostanic on court one, 4-6, 2-6, and graduate student Sean Hill losing to No. 56 Makk, 3-6, 4-6. Of the other four competitive singles matches, Cal won the first set in three.
Cal lost the dual match after Magnaudet’s competitive loss to USC junior Samuel Rubell, 6-7, 4-6. Magnaudet had several chances in that second set to tie the match at a set apiece, but he could not take advantage of those opportunities.
Hjorth, Overbeck and Chen all won their first set against USC, but Hjorth and Overbeck lost their respective second sets while Chen struggled to put No. 117 Westrate away in his second set as they were in the middle of a tiebreak before Magnaudet’s loss. Overbeck had a 3-0 lead in his third set over Trojan freshman Ryan Colby, while Hjorth’s third set against senior Bradley Frey never started.
“We had chances, but I knew it was gonna be tough once we lost the doubles point,” Kwinta said. “Of the three times we played (USC), they played their best tennis in Ojai. Nevertheless, I liked the way our guys competed on all the courts and we also played our best tennis towards the end of the season.”
Despite the tough end to the season, first-year head coach Kwinta is optimistic about his squad’s potential in the years to come.
“They’re going to really pay dividends later down the line. They’re all young kids — five freshmen — and we learned so much about each other, about this team, and about what it takes to be a top team this season that I have no doubt it’s going to help us be really good next year,” Kwinta said.
Kikuchi may qualify for the NCAA singles tournament and the doubles tournament along with Overbeck. But outside of that, Cal’s season is over as it finishes the season 11-10.