The No. 73 UC Irvine Men’s Tennis team (0-1) lost to the Air Force Falcons on Jan. 17, finishing 3-4 in an arduous four-hour match at Anteater Stadium.
The Anteaters started their season opener with three new players in the lineup, as well as two returning Big West honorees, seniors Brian Morton and Ryusuke Kashiwabara.
‘It’s pure[ly] mental. That’s the number one thing,’ said UCI Head Coach Steve Clark.
On the number one doubles court, Morton and Kashiwabara were pitted against the Falcon’s top team of senior Tyler McClung and junior Shannon Buck, ranked 20th in the country. The match was close but the Falcons’ superb serving resulted in a loss for UCI, with a final set score of 7-9.
On court three, junior Peter Surapol and sophomore Mustafa Ulukan began their match trailing, but came back to sweep past Air Force sophomores Justin Lau and Robert Alexander to even out the doubles competition with a 8-4 victory.
Air Force would earn the match point on court two, however, by defeating UCI sophomore Aaron Ellis and freshman Victor Lamm with a close 9-8 win.
All but one of the singles matches went into three sets, beginning with a win by Anteater Kashiwabara against Falcon junior Trevor Johnson in court number two.
UCI tied the game with a singles match score of 6-2, 6-3.
‘I played pretty solid and did what I needed to win,’ Kashiwabara said.
UCI would fall behind again on court one as Air Force’s 29th-ranked Buck came back to defeat Morton, who started off strong but quickly started to fall behind in the second set with a final score of 1-6, 6-3, 6-4.
‘[Buck] stepped up his game, making me hit more balls,’ Morton said. ‘But he is 29th in the country.’
The Falcons grabbed a 3-1 lead when McClung defeated Lamm on court number three with a score of 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.
UCI started catching up on court five when Surapol defeated Lau, raising his level of play over the course of the match and winning 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.
The game evened out when Ellis defeated Alexander on court number six, winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
The entire game would come down to court number four, where Anteater junior Olof Sjolund would face Chris Dong.
The match came to a third set as the afternoon passed on, collecting both teams on the adjacent court.
Sjolund brushed off taunts from Dong and his teammates, while Anteater fans encouraged him with cheers of ‘Come on, Sweden!’
The set was tied 6-6, and the final game played out until a ball from Dong flew just inside the right sideline.
Sjolund contested, but the referee stayed with her call and Air Force clinched their victory over UCI.
‘We’ve never lost a match because of a call before,’ Clark said.
The team did not feel it was their best game and expects to work on improving its game for the rest of the season.
‘We definitely could have played better,’ Kashiwabara said.
Clark was disappointed with the loss, explaining that UCI had never lost in doubles to Air Force during his coaching.
‘[UCI] played terribly,’ Clark said. ‘We had multiple chances to win.’
However, he remained optimistic.
Clark has set high goals for the team, such as winning conference and making nationals.
‘The good thing is that it’s the beginning of the year and you can learn from it
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