Jefferson P. Nolan
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Though Cal Poly true freshman Ben Donovan was on a path for victory against UCLA’s Clay Thompson, the top-ranked collegiate tennis player in the nation, his match went unfinished as the Bruins had already clinched the match. Cal Poly men’s tennis fell 4-0 at No. 6 UCLA in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Despite the 4-0 margin on the scoreboard at the Los Angeles Tennis Center, the shutout did not reflect UCLA’s narrow margin of victory.
The Bruins claimed the doubles point when seniors Marco Comuzzo and Matt Thomson, as well as freshman Corey Pang and junior Devin Barber, dropped their respective matches to the Bruins.
But as Donovan claimed the first few games of the first set against Thompson, eyebrows began to raise.
The freshman was hitting every corner of the court, especially driving off his backhand, and took the 6-foot-6 Thompson by surprise.
But as junior Naveen Beasley lost on the No. 6 court 6-3, 6-1, Cal Poly’s Thomson followed suit, losing 6-1, 6-3.
With UCLA up 3-0 on points, senior Jurgen De Jager was unable to keep UCLA’s Mackenzie McDonald at bay. De Jager fell to McDonald — the 35th-ranked player in the nation — 6-4, 6-3 as both Donovan and Comuzzo battled on the first and second courts of their singles matches.
Comuzzo, competing against UCLA’s Marcos Giron — the second-highest ranked player behind Thompson — rallied on the court adjacent to Donovan. As De Jager finally fell, Donovan was winning in the third set 3-0, while Comuzzo had a 3-2 lead in his third set over Giron.
“It’s surreal still, but we went down swinging,” De Jager said. “It’ll hit me later, but I can’t even begin to explain how much I love these guys. We came together after a bad start, and we play for each other.”
Donovan said he keeps in mind that the Mustangs began the season with a seven-game losing streak. After earning a Big West Championship ring and having an opportunity to face off against one of the premier teams in the nation, Donovan fully appreciates the success of Cal Poly’s 2014 campaign, he said.
“Everyone hung in there,” Donovan said. “The fact that Marco (Comuzzo) and I were able to get to the third set means that everybody was hanging in there against the No. 6 team in the country.”
Heading to the locker room after the match, head coach Nick Carless sat his team down for the last time this season.
“I just told them I loved them,” Carless said. “It’s hard to get the words out to these guys at the end of the year. I told them that I’m going to miss them and that I’m really proud of them. Every season will end. Our goal was to play our best tennis on the last point of the year. And we did; we just ran into a team that’s very, very good.”