Cal Poly Men’s Tennis has its sights set high for the 2023 campaign after a second straight regular-season Big West title and narrowly missing the NCAA tournament last year, ending with a 15-6 record and as the No. 63 team in the nation.
The Mustangs are geared up for a long run after returning seven athletes, five of which have major awards to their names.
Most notably, junior Noah Berry is starting the season ranked No. 55 in the nation coming off a dominant 2021-22 season where he received All-Conference first-team honors in both singles and doubles.
“We have a really good group of guys with great talent,” Berry said. “The boys love to work hard and I think we can do a lot of great things.”
Returning to the tournament
Cal Poly has not made the NCAA tournament since 2014, despite boasting a .657 win percentage over the last seven seasons.
Though the path to the NCAA tournament is always the same, it runs through the Big West Championship tournament, which has given young Mustang teams struggles in the past.
However, this year’s team is older and more experienced in big moments, eagerly waiting for late April to roll around and get its chance at redemption.
Redshirt junior Fernando Fonseca is one of these experienced members of the squad who went 13-5 in doubles last year partnered with Berry.
“As always I am excited for the conference matchups,” Fonseca said. “Everything we do from here on out is us trying to get ready for the last match of the year which matters the most.”
Leading the Mustangs for his 12th year will be head coach Nick Carless, who has delivered 152 total wins to go along with four total Big West Championships for Cal Poly.
Toughness, energy, discipline and selflessness are the characteristics that Carless preaches and believes can take this team over the top.
“We want to be tough and try to practice that every day,” Carless said. “We want to bring a competitor’s energy and enthusiasm every time we step onto the court.”
Toughness and energy are not traits or abilities that a team can necessarily master, but successful teams are ones that can take this mindset with them on and off the court.
“We want to be a disciplined team… eating right, stretching and recovering after every match and practice,” Carless said. “S is for selflessness. If you want to be a good tennis team, you need to find a way to get guys around you better and build camaraderie.”
The majority of the players on this team have been together for two and a half years or more, so selflessness is not something that is lacking, according to Berry.
“Having spent so much time together and playing next to each other so much that gives us an advantage,” Berry said. “It’s all about being a team and just enjoying the time with your boys.”
The Mustangs have taken major strides every year, with this message of TEDS in the back of all of their minds, including redshirt junior Joe Leather, who comes into this season after receiving a First Team All-Conference nod for doubles and a Second Team selection for singles
Leaders establishing a positive culture
Youth and immaturity have been outgrown by this now-experienced Mustang squad, and the leaders will now be thrust into a new and bigger responsibility for the team.
The younger players and incoming freshmen will be hearing plenty of advice from Fonseca, as he has embraced this new leadership role.
“All of the upperclassmen know to keep each other accountable because we are role models on the team and we have a strong schedule ahead of us that we need to be prepared for,” Fonseca said.
The sport of tennis is a unique one, as it can be considered an individual sport, but according to some members of the team, the positive energy established by veterans and the coaching staff makes it feel like more of a group experience.
“What makes this team unique is the amount of experiences they have shared together, good and the bad,” Carless said. “They know each other well and work well as a unit… This is a smaller roster than previous years, it creates more intimacy and allows guys to create closer, tighter bonds.”
Being one of the most successful teams on campus, Cal Poly Men’s Tennis is sure to put on a show as its season continues and come Big West Conference play, which begins on Friday, Mar. 21 in a matchup with UC Davis.
“Over everything, we are a team,” Berry said. “All the boys are here for one another, we don’t show up flat, we push each other to get better and we stay ready to go.”