NCAA Tourney-Bound

courtesy of UCI Athletics The No. 3 seeded men’s tennis team were victorious against No. 1 seed Cal Poly in the Big West Tournament finals to claim their first Big West title since 2005, and an NCAA Tournament bid.

courtesy of UCI Athletics
The No. 3 seeded men’s tennis team were victorious against No. 1 seed Cal Poly in the Big West Tournament finals to claim their first Big West title since 2005, and an NCAA Tournament bid.

When men’s tennis coach Trevor Kronemann brought in a sports psychologist to work with his team at the start of the season, he hoped that professional guidance for his athletes’ mentalities would result in confidence that could bring a Big West Championship to UC Irvine.

With a 4-0 victory over Cal Poly on Sunday morning, the Anteaters made Kronemann’s wishes a reality, clinching the team’s first conference title since 2005.

UCI 4 Cal Poly 0 (Finals)

Following a 5-2 loss to the Mustangs on April 10, Irvine entered the Big West Tournament finals championship contest desperate to gain retribution for late-season losses and upset yet another opponent in a clutch matchup.

On Sunday morning, the Anteaters pushed their win streak to four games, sweeping Cal Poly 4-0. After dropping seven of their final ten regular season matches, the team caught fire at the perfect time, winning three straight crucial matches en route to their first Big West Championship since 2005.

Irvine played as a team throughout the postseason. They finished off an undefeated doubles record in the Big West Tournament with an 8-2 win from Tsai and Henderson and an 8-3 victory from Gould and Issara in the championship match.

Had the Anteaters lost, it would have marked the end to the collegiate careers of seniors Shimpei Suzuki, Douglas Taylor and Tsai. Inspired by a desire to continue his run as an Anteater, Suzuki defeated his Cal Poly opponent 6-1, 6-4 and put Irvine up 2-0.

In the No. 6 match, Mayer tore through the first set with 6-1 and edged out a 7-5 win in the second set.

Henderson finished off his Big West Tournament with yet another singles victory 6-4, 6-4, clinching the Anteaters’ first NCAA Tournament berth in five seasons.

The men’s tennis NCAA Tournament playoff seeding will be announced this afternoon on ESPNews. UCI is likely to be tested early by high-seeded opponents; however, with an abundance of confidence entering the playoffs, don’t expect the ’Eaters to fold easily against any opponent.

UCI 4 Pacific 1 (Semi-Finals)

After a disappointing 7-0 loss to the University of Pacific on April 17, the Anteaters forgot their previous tribulations in a second-round match against the Tigers on Saturday afternoon. The ’Eaters picked up where they left off from the previous morning, mustering a 4-1 victory over No. 2 Pacific. Irvine dictated the doubles courts once again. Tsai and Henderson won 8-4, while Gould and Issara edged out their opponents, 8-6.

Sophomore Fabian Matthews dropped the team’s first point of the Big West Tournament in a 7-6, 5-3 loss in the No. 1 singles matchup; however, Gould, Issara and Henderson defeated their respective opponents.

A win over Pacific clinched a spot in the Big West Championship for Irvine. Their challenger: top-seeded Cal Poly. Last season, it was the Cal Poly Mustangs who defeated the Anteaters, in the same match, to claim the 2009 Big West Championship title.

UCI 4 UCR 0 (Quarterfinals)

In the opening round of the Big West Tournament at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the third seeded Anteaters knocked off No. 6 UC Riverside 4-0. Irvine dominated the Highlanders in the Friday morning matchup. Sophomore Sam Gould and junior Khunpol Issara won 8-1 in No. 3 doubles, while senior Zac Tsai and sophomore Steven Henderson clinched the doubles point with an 8-4 win in the No. 1 matchup.

Lower-seeded singles players were key to the team’s defeat of UCR. The Anteaters were relentless as they clinched the victory by large margins in the No. 4, 5 and 6 singles matches. Sophomore Ryan Mayer made quick work of his opponent in the No. 5 match, winning 6-2, 6-1. Junior Stephen Stege followed with a 6-1, 6-0 win as the No. 6 seed and Henderson finished off Riverside in the No. 4 matchup, beating opponent Mike Conroy 6-2, 6-1.