Cal Poly men’s tennis may never be the same again. As the Big West conference draws nearer and the season comes to a close, the team will say good-bye to John Nguyen and Brett Van Linge, a doubles team that went out with a bang.
“I find it hard to believe that we’ve ever had a team as successful as they’ve been,” coach Trevor Kronemann said. The team has gone 22-5 this season, which marks the fourth season for Van Linge and the third for Nguyen.
Their success dates back to the days before they played at Cal Poly and when they played each other. They both grew up in Southern California and played tennis in tournaments where “everyone kind of knew everybody,” Van Linge said.
They remember playing in a boys 14-and-under tournament (“I think I won it,” Nguyen said) and once in high school (“He beat me really bad,” Nguyen added). They would later have the same coach in Orange County and go on to play doubles tournaments together.
“It’s quite funny looking back,” Van Linge said.
Van Linge was soon recruited at Cal Poly, and Nguyen followed a year later after he talked to Kronemann and was offered a scholarship. Kronemann said it was “a pretty easy decision” to have the two play doubles together, seeing as they had played doubles events previously and were comfortable together.
“Brett is one of the best doubles players we’ve had at Cal Poly,” Kronemann said, adding that he had confidence in Van Linge’s decision to play doubles with Nguyen.
“He’s a tall guy with a big serve – and I’m quick at the net” Van Linge said. “(They are) two different game styles that come together in doubles.”
“We communicate really well – we just click,” Nguyen added.
The issue of trust is a huge component in doubles tennis, Kronemann said, comparing the relationship to being a twin. What’s more is that they’re also good friends off the court.
“Johnny knows what to expect from Brett and Brett knows what to expect from Johnny,” Kronemann said.
While Kronemann praises the boys for all their achievements, he does have one regret: that the team was never nationally ranked.
While their record would speak very highly in the rankings, they were required to beat a nationally-ranked team to make it into the rankings. Complications prevented them from doing so when a match against Hawaii was rained out and Nguyen missed three matches due to a hand injury.
When the team played the No. 1 doubles team from Pepperdine, Kronemann said it was a very close match and “they just couldn’t close the door.”
“They’ve beaten everybody they need to beat,” he said, “and they’re one of the best unranked national teams in the country.”
He estimated the duo has won close to 70 to 75 matches within four years, but to Nguyen and Van Linge, this season stands out on top.
“I think it’s the best season Brett and I have had,” Nguyen said, adding that he believes the men’s tennis team as a whole will do well in the Big West Championships in Palm Springs this weekend.
“I feel like this is the best shot we’re going to have in the last three years – it’s the best team talent-wise,” he said.
The team’s most recent win against Sacramento State University put the team in a situation reminiscent of last season, when they were also 10-1 going to the championships.
“As of now, all the teams are pretty even,” he said. “We can win it, I strongly believe that.”
Regardless of how they do in the conference, Kronemann is confident that Nguyen and Van Linge will be voted All Big West first team in doubles by all the other coaches.
“The coach at UCSC said, ‘Boy, those guys are good and they don’t lose very much, do they?’” Kronemann said.
He added that they are even good enough to play professionally after college and could even achieve world rankings in doubles if they wanted to.
“I’ve told them many times,” he said. “But it may not be a lifestyle for them.”
Nguyen and Van Linge do see tennis in their future, but perhaps not the pros.
“We’ll still play doubles tournaments,” Nguyen said.
“I would play strictly doubles with John,” Van Linge also said. “I think we’re capable of succeeding after college. We’re good enough and we’ve been playing long enough.”
As for Kronemann, the loss of these two athletes will be monumental for the team and he will look to strengthen the doubles teams to mirror Nguyen and Van Linge’s success.
“You’re looking at two guys that everyone looks up to and wants to be like,” he said. “You want every guy to have the enthusiasm that those guys have and the desire to get better.
“It will be a huge hole as a coach for me to fill.”