Ryan Chartrand

Matt Baca and his doubles partner Kyle Roybal beat two ranked teams, including Stanford’s No. 2-ranked squad, in the men’s semifinals at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Regionals in October.

“That was like the best feeling I’ve had in terms of tennis in a long time,” Baca said. “This is both our last year playing and that’s pretty much what it’s all about.”

A team from Cal ranked in the Top 30 knocked out Baca and Roybal on the way to winning the tournament.

Baca has made the All-Big West Conference team for the past three years and expects to make it again this year. He also currently holds the top men’s singles player position at Cal Poly.

“It doesn’t really change much,” Baca said. “In terms of being the No. 1 player, I mean, I just need to basically be a leader for the team and do anything I can to achieve success and winning for the team. I just want to try to make the other players better and continue doing really well with my doubles partner.”

First-year Cal Poly head coach Justin McGrath considers Baca a leader.

“Matt has leadership qualities,” McGrath said. “He has the potential to really have a good year.”

Roybal has a similar opinion of his doubles partner.

“He’s a hard-working guy,” Roybal said. “He lets his actions speak for him on the court. That’s how he leads by example on the team,” Roybal said.

Besides being a tennis player since age 4, Baca is a business senior who most people describe as confident.

“I think he has an unwavering confidence about him that really separates him from other people,” McGrath said.

One of Baca’s best friends since he was 10 years old, business senior Andrew Diefenbach, said confident and funny are the best words to describe Baca.

“He’s a confident guy,” Diefenbach said. “He’s very sure of himself and what he’s capable of. He’s very motivated. He knows where he wants to be, where he wants to go in life.”

Baca plans to have a job lined up in finance when he graduates at the end of the year.

“Unless something big happens in terms of tennis this year, like my partner and I, you know, have a shot at the national championship. Maybe I’ll go on tour for a year or two,” he said. “Other than that, having a job to fall back on would be nice.”

Diefenbach remembers a story that characterizes Baca in his mind. When they were 12 years old, they took turns riding a bike off a ramp Diefenbach had built. On his turn, Baca fell off the bike and was pretty hurt, but just started laughing.

“His perspective is just kind of laugh at yourself about stuff like that, because life is just too short,” Diefenbach said.

Another friend and Beta Theta Pi fraternity brother, economics senior Mike Barrett, characterized Baca as motivated, athletic and outgoing.

“He’s always trying to make everyone around him laugh and have a good time. It’s hard to find him in a bad mood,” Barrett said.

Baca, whose self-description closely matched those of his friends and coach, said aside from tennis he likes to do “anything and everything outside in the sun, Monday night poker with the boys and occasionally acting the fool downtown.”

“I guess that’s pretty much Matt in a box – bar rat and a tennis player,” said Beta Theta Pi fraternity member and agribusiness senior Brad Mizuno, who added Baca takes school very seriously.

Diefenbach said Baca is very good about time management.

“I don’t think a lot of college students could do what he does,” Diefenbach said. “He excels at tennis, he excels at school and he’s in a fraternity.”

Baca said it’s hard for any student-athlete to concentrate on school and sports at the same time.

“It gets a little hectic during season when we’re not here on the weekends,” Baca said. “It’s really hard to study for midterms or write essays when we’re gone, staying in the hotels. It’s like the last thing we want to do because you come back to the hotel and you’re exhausted from playing, mentally and physically. And it’s hard to open those books and start doing classwork.”

There were times in the past 18 years when taking tennis seriously was not so easy for Baca.

“Definitely got burnt-out a few times, once when I was 11 and once when I was 17,” he said. “My dad pushed me really hard. I don’t know, there were times in my life when I wanted to do other things and have more of a social life. But luckily I had really good friends that talked me back into playing.”

Now that he’s at Cal Poly, Baca appreciates some of the different aspects of college tennis.

“The team aspect’s really fun, as opposed to before college when it was totally individualized,” Baca said. “And the competitive atmosphere, the camaraderie that the team shares with everyone. I guess I just love being on the court with my teammates.”

Baca attributes the team’s success this year to McGrath’s confidence in the players.

“He expects a lot from himself and his players,” Baca said. “And he puts a minimal amount of pressure on us at the same time. I really couldn’t ask more from a coach. He’s great guy.”

At first, Baca felt pressure to make an impact on Cal Poly tennis, but said they are already off to a good start this fall with the ITA semifinals.

“That’s pretty much where we just broke through and our confidence just boosted,” Baca said. “Basically, thanks to (athletics director) Alison Cone and the athletic department for hiring Justin McGrath. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the top coaches in the nation and I’m just fortunate enough to spend my last year under his wing.”

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