Ryan Chartrand

“Dude, I could totally beat you at Scrabble.”

“No way, man. I’d destroy you!”

The battle was on.

First, my roommate and I marched ourselves to Tom’s Toys to purchase Scrabble. Then, as the pair of us perused our vast lexicons, we went through countless questionable words – yew, roe, jape. We spent a myriad of hours doing battle on the Scrabble board over the weekend and, in the end, I reigned victorious.

As a result, I had a plethora of quips for my fallen roommate.

In the waning hours Sunday night, as my thoughts turned toward the approaching school week, I realized that I wasted a lot of time on a simple board game. Nonetheless, a challenge is a challenge. Whether it’s on the track, in the pool or for board-game glory, backing down just isn’t an option.

That’s exactly the mantra I had in mind for this challenge: A match between Cal Poly tennis ace Carol Erickson and myself.

Crazy, right? I can hear the pundits now: “Frank, there’s no chance you can beat Erickson. She actually plays tennis and she’s Cal Poly’s ace. Your sport involves running around a rubber oval. Just give it up.”

Here’s my response to those people: “Just because I’ve only played tennis a few times in my life doesn’t mean the monumental upset can’t happen. Look at Rocky. Nobody thought he could take Ivan Drago down, but he persevered and ultimately won.”

What’s more, I have a plan: play to my strengths and minimize my weaknesses. That means no backhands, lots of long points to utilize my conditioning and subbing in Andy Roddick for my serve. I also plan to employ Roger Federer as a skills coach and John McEnroe as a trash-talking coach. With that power-packed trio of tennis notables, how can I lose?

Erickson might have an advantage in experience, an ability to serve the ball in bounds and the capacity to knock a backhand over the net. She might have pinpoint accuracy and harrowing net play, but if I keep the game on my right side and find a way to get in her head, this could be the hardcourt version of the “Miracle on Ice.”

Let’s be real. If I returned one serve in bounds against the senior ace, it would be a moral victory.

Sadly, the challenge will have to wait as Erickson recovers from a forearm injury that has cut her season short.

Erickson’s injury will force her to watch this weekend’s home finale as a spectator. She will also miss the Big West Conference Championships in two weeks as her team wraps up the 2007 season. That leaves two sophomores, Shannon Brady and Maria Malec, and five freshmen to take care of business come championship season.

The quintet of freshmen has some serious talent among them. Brittany Blalock, a lanky 6-footer, has stepped into Erickson’s vacant No. 1 singles spot admirably. Blalock is 4-5 at No. 1 singles this season and 20-13 overall.

Cal Poly is only fifth in the Big West standings, but you don’t need a Scrabble dictionary to translate the Mustangs’ future on the tennis courts: they have potential.

Even without Erickson, the Mustangs are blossoming into a noteworthy program.

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