The No. 58 Cal Poly men’s tennis team (2-3) beat Saint Mary’s 6-1 in Friday’s home opener. The Mustangs went up 1-0 after capturing the doubles point against the Gaels, then cruised to five singles victories each decided in straight sets.
“Today was about bouncing back from all the traveling we have done in last couple of weeks,” sophomore Axel Damiens said. “It feels good to be back at home courts in front of our friends and have the chance to act the right way, play the right way and be a good teammate.”
In the first outdoor match of the season, the Mustangs were in their element with a home crowd on the sidelines. The energy during the doubles play was influenced by powerful returns and quick hands at the net from Cal Poly’s number two team, juniors Garrett Auproux and Tim Tan. Auproux and Tan finished first with a score of 6-1.
The doubles point was left in the hands of Cal Poly’s No. 1 team, juniors Ben Donovan and Corey Pang, and No. 3 team, sophomores Karl Enander and Dan Cardiff. Enander and Cardiff found themselves in a pivotal tiebreaker. Meanwhile, Donovan and Pang fought back to tie up their score to 6-6.
“In that moment it was so close, but we stayed confident and knew we worked hard for this,” Cardiff said. “It was awesome to see a good amount of people out supporting us.”
The points got longer and the cheering got louder. Enander and Cardiff captured their tiebreaker, clinching the doubles point and putting the Mustangs ahead 1-0. Pang and Donovan’s match was halted once the point was decided.
“We knew that getting the doubles point was just one more step in getting the ball rolling today,” Cardiff said. “It was huge in terms of momentum and it definitely put more pressure on our opponents to perform in singles.”
In singles play, five out of the six Cal Poly players captured their first set, finding their stride early. In the top three singles positions, the junior captains established themselves against the Gael’s right away.
Donovan only dropped one service game at the No. 1 singles position and was first off the court after beating Thomas Hunt 6-0, 6-3. Next to finish was Auproux, the No. 2 singles player, who beat Nash Vollenweider 6-3, 7-6 (6).
The Mustangs led 3-0 with four singles matches still in progress. However, Pang, playing the No. 3 position, wasn’t far behind his fellow juniors. Pang clinched the Mustangs’ victory by beating James Markiewicz 7-5, 6-2.
“We have great leadership on the top courts,” Damiens said. “Our captains are playing good tennis and have great energy.”
Even though the team win was clinched, the remaining three matches were still played out and the Mustangs didn’t let up. Damiens was next to finish at No. 5 singles, beating Jacob Lagman 6-4, 6-4.
“Personally for me, it was important for my confidence,” Damiens said. “I lost both of my matches last weekend and I really wanted to go into Sunday’s match trusting my game and knowing what i’m capable of.”
Two freshman remained on the court. Rafael Lenhard beat Daniel Krutik 7-5, 6-3 and Josh Ortlip lost a tough match 2-6, 6-0, 5-7 to Manuel De Luis Lamelas at No. 4 singles. Damiens said he was impressed by his younger teammates’ ability to keep competing today.
“I like how the freshman reacted, especially Josh,” Damiens said. “The way he kept fighting in his match is really promising for the rest of the season, even though he didn’t win today.”
The Mustangs continue their home stand against No. 38 San Diego State on Sunday at noon. The Aztecs (1-3) face the Mustangs after dropping three straight matches against top-30 competition, but Damiens said the team is not focused on their opponent’s ranking.
“Sunday is about having a ton of fun,” Damiens said. “I like our chances because I believe we are really strong in every single spot of our line up. Win or lose, we are brothers out there and will always be competing for each other.”