Jefferson P. Nolan
With his two-handed forehand, senior Andre Dome hits the ball a little bit differently then most tennis players.
But with the Cal Poly tennis team’s loss to Pacific on Friday afternoon, it will be a while before the program sees the 29th ranked tennis player’s uncharacteristic shot on the courts of Cal Poly.
Fighting to defend their 2012 championship title, the Mustangs (14-9, 5-1 Big West) fell 4-3 to the Tigers in the Big West tournament in Indian Wells, Calif. on Saturday, bringing their season to an end.
After sweeping UC Riverside 4-0 in the first round of the tournament, the Mustangs took on Pacific (16-9, 4-3 Big West) in the semifinals with senior co-captain Jordan Bridge and freshman Derek Klein battling on their courts.
A 6-3, 6-3 victory from Dome, and wins from junior Marco Comuzzo and sophomore Naveen Beasley, gave the Mustangs an upper hand in the match, but Bridge, after winning his first set 6-2, fell 6-1 in the second and lost a 7-6 duel to Denis Stolyarov. It all came down to Klein, but the true freshman couldn’t snag a win, and the Tigers clinched the match with Daniel Alameh’s 6-3 victory in the third set.
“It was tough to go down that way,” Comuzzo said. “But you’ve just got to learn from it. You’ve got to learn from it and move forward.”
Head coach Nick Carless, in his second year coaching at Cal Poly, hoped to bring back a second Big West championship trophy to San Luis Obispo after his 2012 squad claimed its first championship in program history.
And after winning the Big West regular season title, he knows his team had potential to go all the way.
“I thought that we had our chances to win it,” Carless said. “I feel like we beat ourselves. While Pacific won, I feel like we did more to contribute to their win than they did in terms of not capitalizing on opportunities. Tennis is a sport where just one shot, just one point can change a match.”
But even with the culmination of the 2013 season, the program will have reason to cheer as Dome will represent the Mustangs in the NCAA tournament at the end May. Having already qualified for the main draw, Dome will compete for All-American status in Champaign, Ill.
“In that sense, our season isn’t done,” Carless said. “ I think that Andre was a huge success again this year, and I think he has good chance of being conference player of the year.”
An NCAA tournament victory would give the Cal Poly tennis star a wildcard bid into the US Open in September.
But with the loss to Pacific, the sights of the tennis team are directed on replacing Bridge and Dome for the next school year.
“It’s going to be tough losing those guys,” Carless said. “Next year, we’re going to be even younger. We have a great, top 25 in the nation recruiting class, and while we’ll be even younger.”
Volunteer assistant coach Brian McPhee was last years’ team captain, and he knows how much both Dome and Bridge have contributed to the program.
“It’s going to come down to leadership in new positions,” McPhee said. “It’s going to come down to the guys that really paid attention to our captains and the great things that they portrayed. It’ll be their time to represent the Cal Poly tradition.”
And with a batch of fresh talent making its way on the team next year, Carless will look to the upperclassmen to lead the team in its next season.
“It’s tough to go down the way we did, but I think that there are a lot of positives we can take from this season,” Comuzzo said. “I just need to lift my game and lead from the front. Also, we’ll have Jurgen (De Jager) with me leading the team, and I’m really looking forward to that challenge.”
In the Big West championship match, the Tigers were unable to continue their winning streak as UC Santa Barbara became the first No. 5 seeded team to emerge conference champion with a 4-2 win. It marked the Gauchos’ first title since 2009.
The women’s tennis team concluded its injury-riddled season after a 4-1 loss to Pacific in the opening round of the tournament on Thursday. The team will return its entire roster in 2014, with true freshman Louise Oxnevad leading the way in the No. 1 spot.