The men’s tennis team moved to 9-8 overall and 1-1 in the Big West after splitting its conference opening matches this past weekend.
The men’s tennis team moved to 9-8 overall and 1-1 in the Big West after splitting its conference opening matches this past weekend.

Jefferson P. Nolan

As far as injuries go, the Cal Poly men’s tennis team has yet to catch a break. But despite the loss of two starters, the Mustangs split two weekend matches in San Luis Obispo, falling to UC Irvine 4-3 and sweeping UC Riverside 7-0.

In their Big West Conference home opener against UC Irvine, the Mustangs (9-8, 1-1 Big West) found themselves pitted against the Anteaters (4-15, 1-1) with one final set determining the outcome of the match.

After winning the first set, junior Matt Thomson battled against UC Irvine’s Shuhei Shibahara. The Anteaters pulled into a 1-1 tie in the second set, and Shibahara finished the match defeating Thomson 6-7, 6-2, 6-2.

With the loss to the Anteaters, the Mustangs realized they needed to find a way to win without the aid of senior co-captain Jordan Bridge and junior Jurgen De Jager.

Bridge felt a “pop” in his warm-up during Cal Poly’s match against Nevada and suffered a second-degree strain in his right arm. And in his last year of eligibility, the senior who has led his team on the court must find new ways to motivate the players.

“It’s tough timing definitely,” Bridge said. “As a captain, I just want to come out here and get these guys fired up and do what I still can as a captain and teammate. If I can play for conference, that’d be great. It’s my last  year, and I’d like to go out there and end it right.”

But while there is hope for the senior co-captain to return in time to compete for a Big West title, the fate of De Jager is set in stone for the remainder of conference play.

What began as a small hamstring strain turned into something much more, as De Jager also heard a loud “pop” as he attempted to smack a lob in his match against Middle Tennessee State’s Ettore Zito. Not realizing he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), he continued to compete in the match.

“It may have been the adrenaline and the emotion,” De Jager said. “But you really just want to play for the team. You want to do well for them. That’s why I kept playing.”

It wasn’t until after his match against Princeton that his doctor informed him of a complete tear of his ACL.

“What hurts the most is not being able to help them play,” De Jager said. “I tried to do my best watching them, but it’s definitely the worst thing not being able to help. Especially after a full season of tough training has built up to this next month.”

Now with the loss of two of Cal Poly’s starters, increased pressure has been directed to the younger players on the team.

True freshman Derek Klein sees his teammates’ absence on the court as a motivational opportunity.

“As a freshman, since two of our top starters are out, it just makes us want to train,” Klein said. “We won’t always be able to rely on those guys to clinch it for us, so we need to take on new roles and play even better.”

Head coach Nick Carless understands the implications of his injured players, but he knows that along with winning and losing, injuries are part of the game.

“Losing (Bridge) and (De Jager) hurts,” Carless said. “But other guys have to be able to step up. Other guys have to be ready to play, be really for this moment and be ready to step in. Especially in the postseason, every team deals with injuries. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a part of sports.”

And on Sunday, a seemingly new team emerged to take on UC Riverside (3-17, 0-3 Big West) at the San Luis Obispo Country Club. After winning all three matches to clinch the doubles point, the Mustangs continued to sweep the Highlanders, winning all six of their singles matches.

“I (was) just telling my guys that the ultimate goal was to win the conference tournament and get to the NCAA’s,” Carless said. “Those goals are still on the table. There’s a difference between playing and playing the right way. I thought today we did a better job of that, and today was a step forward. I was definitely happy about how the guys rebounded after a tough loss.”

After Sunday’s victory, the team will take on UC Davis (6-9, 0-2) on Friday.

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