Despite starting the season 0-2 with a pair of losses to 63rd-ranked Brigham Young University and 14th-ranked Pepperdine, UC Irvine men’s tennis is looking to bounce back with a win against Loyola Marymount University.
“We just need to forget [our] past two matches against BYU and Pepperdine. The losses only motivate us to work harder,” said sophomore Khunpol Isarra, who earned 2008 All-Big West honors in singles.
Even after losing 1-6 in a lopsided match to Pepperdine, the Anteaters are still staying optimistic, while keeping their mind focused on the next teams in their remaining schedule.
“We have to take every match one at a time and not get too worried about our other games,” Isarra said.
For the Anteaters, though, it helps to have solid returning players such as sophomore Isarra, sophomore Stephen Stege and junior Zac Tsai — who earned 2008 All-Big West in doubles — to set the tone for the team in order to find success after a 0-2 start.
Even better, the Anteaters have an integral addition of six new players with senior Wes Miller, who is a transfer from Arizona State University, along with freshmen Fabian Matthews, Steve Henderson, Jon Kazarian and Emmett Shiras joining the 2009 squad.
“We have a really diverse group of guys, which makes our team a lot deeper in talent,” Isarra said. “We don’t really have any standout players; everyone is just solid, so it really allows us to just rotate in more guys and to use more of our players.”
However, out of the six, freshmen Henderson seems to be more in the limelight after his two impressive singles victories against Pepperdine and BYU. He is the only player on the team to have a 2-0 singles record, allowing him to also serve as a motivational tool for his teammates.
“I think that he is prepared mentally, especially since he is a freshman,” Isarra said about his teammate. “He hasn’t lost a singles match. He really deserves that Big West Player of the Week award. He is always working hard at practice, which can motivate others to work hard too.”
Isarra is indeed correct about Henderson deserving that Big West Player of the Week award, which he received on Jan. 28. Even after starting the season 2-0, he still remains humble and intent on improving as a player to better his team during the course of the season.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t really expect [the award] because I only played two matches,” Henderson said. “I don’t really get too worked up on it because I’m just concentrated on improving my skills to get my team better.”
Henderson knows that even if the Anteaters lose to other teams, resulting in a lowered team ranking, the only thing he can really control is his own game.
“It definitely does hurt us as a team when we lose but there’s nothing we can do about it. The only thing we can do is to just keep playing harder and let the rankings work [themselves] out,” Henderson said. “And plus, the only thing for me to do now is to just keep improving my game and working hard every day.”
When losing to decent teams like Pepperdine and BYU, there is no option but to keep moving forward.
“Most of the teams on our schedule are ranked, so we definitely have a lot more chances to prove ourselves and just get pumped up. Our goal is pretty much to get to the top 50 ranking,” Henderson said.
That positive winner’s attitude is just the right thing to guide the Anteaters along to a successful season.
UCI hosts LMU on Monday.