Jefferson P. Nolan
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If the Cal Poly men’s tennis team is going to go all the way in the NCAA Tournament, it will eventually have to play the best.
Predictably, the Mustangs drew No. 6 UCLA (22-3) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins, considered to have one of the top programs in the history of college tennis, will host four teams for the first two rounds of the 64-team bracket.
In Cal Poly’s most recent clash with UCLA in 2013, the Mustangs fell early at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, 4-0. But as Cal Poly has proven in the latter part of the 2014 campaign, this year’s team has the potential to surprise a few people. Though head coach Nick Carless and his team hope for a different outcome than that of their last trip to Los Angeles, there’s no doubt the Mustangs have hit their stride.
Last week, the Cal Poly men’s tennis team claimed their second Big West Championship in three years by defeating Hawaii 4-1 in Indian Wells, Calif.
But as Cal Poly’s Naveen Beasley bounced the tennis ball to serve at match point, the junior’s hand would not stop shaking.
“Before the point even started, I looked at my hand, and my racket was shaking uncontrollably,” Beasley said. “It was shaking so bad that I couldn’t make it stop. All I could do was just keep gripping the racket.”
Beasley missed his first serve.
But after his fault, he put the ball in play, and after two returns, Pavel Liska’s shot was denied by the net. Beasley’s shaking hand relinquished his racket as he screamed to his teammates rushing the court.
Following their Big West title, several Cal Poly tennis players were honored with awards:
Ben Donovan: All-Big West First Team selection, Big West Freshman of the Year; Marco Comuzzo: All-Big West First Team selection; Jurgen De Jager: All-Big West First Team selection; Corey Pang and Devin Barber: second team doubles choice; Matt Thompson: honored with Comuzzo as first team doubles selection; head coach Nick Carless: Big West Coach of the Year.
The only two left out were injured freshman Garrett Auproux and Beasley.
But while a conference accolade would certainly be appreciated by the junior, Beasley insisted the greatest honor he could receive is winning for his teammates.
“We’re playing for each other out there,” Beasley said. “When (my teammates) are encouraging each other, it’s not just for the banter of college tennis. It’s the actual wanting of each other to succeed. Not just on the tennis court, but in life. That desire pushes us to new levels to win championships.”
Redshirt sophomore Devin Barber agreed the awards are humbling, but he insisted there is no other teammate of his he would rather have clinch a championship than Beasley.
“The awards are great, but Naveen doesn’t really need that,” Barber said. “Nobody cares because Naveen clinched the two biggest matches of the year for us. He gets to say that he clinched a conference championship. Nobody else gets to say that.”
But after celebrating their conference victory this past week, the men’s tennis team knows despite the beach weather in Southern California, they will be walking into a storm at the UCLA tennis courts.
“I think we are running into the most talented team in the country,” Carless said. “But this time of year, anything can happen. You realize you don’t have anything left to lose. (The Bruins) are amazing tennis players, but so are we. We are going to go down there, toss the tennis balls up, and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mustangs will take on the Bruins at noon at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on Saturday.