The Cal Poly men’s and women’s tennis teams are heading to the Big West Conference Championships, which runs Friday through Sunday in Indian Wells.
The men enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed and have a bye in the first round. The Mustangs are scheduled to play Saturday against the winner of the matchup between UC Riverside and Pacific. If Cal Poly wins, it will advance to the finals to play either UC Santa Barbara or UC Irvine.
Although Cal Poly senior Matt Baca is optimistic about the team’s chances to bring home Cal Poly’s first Big West title, he knows stiff competition awaits.
“We have to focus on our first match and just compete hard every point,” Baca said.
First-year Cal Poly men’s head coach Justin McGrath said that the team has been working extremely hard to prepare for the tournament and he is confident it will do well.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment all year,” McGrath said. “We have a great shot to win and we want to seize it.”
McGrath said that the team’s ultimate goal is to win the tournament and move on to the NCAA Tournament. He said he is proud of his team for being seeded first.
“Because I am a senior, winning conference and getting a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament would mean the world to me,” senior Kyle Roybal said. “I could think of no better way to end my career than going out on a winning note.”
On the women’s side, the team is seeded fifth and will be playing the fourth-seeded Gauchos of UCSB in the first round.
Cal Poly head coach Hugh Bream said that although UCSB defeated the Mustangs when the two teams last played, the team has improved greatly and he is confidant that it can pull out a win.
He said his young team, almost half of which are freshmen, had a tough time recovering from the loss of top singles player Carol Erickson, a senior who suffered a season-ending forearm injury against UC Riverside on March 2.
“Since then we’ve gained a great deal of experience,” Bream said.
Filling the void left by Erickson has been freshman Brittany Blalock (20-14).
“We are playing our best tennis of the year and I think we are at the top of our games,” Blalock said. “Everyone is ready to play their best and dominate.”
Blalock’s partner at No. 1 doubles, freshman Steffi Wong, agreed that the teams’ chances are very good in the tournament despite their low seed.
“Although we’re going into the tournament as a lower seed than we hoped, there isn’t a team we can’t beat,” Wong said.
The Mustangs placed third in the Big West tourney last year and last won in 2003. They have been training strenuously, and Bream said that they are in excellent mental and physical condition, positioning them to play the role of spoiler in the tournament.