‘Eaters Dominate ITA Circuit

The Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) is an organization that is comprised of thousands of college tennis players and coaches within hundreds of college programs. The Association serves as college tennis’s governing body and includes the NCAA (Divisions I, II, & III), NAIA, and Community College divisions.

Courtesy of Joelle Sy

Courtesy of Joelle Sy

Every summer, the organization hosts a collegiate circuit in seven different regions across the country.  This summer, five UC Irvine Anteaters had the opportunity  to participate in Southern California’s summer circuit.

UCI sophomores Justin Agbayani and Caryl Hernandez not only participated in the circuit, but also emerged with great success. Agbayani and Hernandez came out on top in their doubles tournament, capped off by an 8-5 victory in the finals over Azusa Pacific University.

Agbayani describes the circuit as being different from the regular season. His sentiment is that the circuit stands as less competitive and less hyped than the actual collegiate tennis season. During the season, the team maintains a greater sense of camaraderie, constantly cheering on each other on the court, while the circuit represents more of an independent endeavor.

Hernandez maintains a somewhat different perspective than his doubles partner towards the circuit. As a participant since high school, he has come to recognize the vibe of the circuit as “very competitive.” For Hernandez, the circuit’s adherence to Division 1 rules, up and coming players from high school who have greatly improved, in addition to the diversity of players from different colleges are all factors which contribute to its competitive atmosphere;  one which he is used to.

Furthermore, Agbayani remarks that the circuit “is just like the junior tournaments we played for college. During season, we’re competing together but in the summer, it’s just like any other tournament we played before.”

However, for Agbayani one difference between the circuit and the typical collegiate tennis season that can’t be ignored is the lack of a coach’s presence. “In season, we also have our coaches there constantly coaching and helping us,” he said. “On the other hand, in the tournaments, we are all by ourselves out on the court.”

But, the lack of a coaching staff has hardly deterred these Anteaters from improving their game and doing big things on the tennis court this past off-season. While the competitive nature of the circuit may not be on par to what the players experience during the regular season, the circuit provides the opportunity for college players in the area to compete against one another and remain competitive during the summer.

The circuit also gives players the opportunity to see just how far they have come in the past year. “It was really cool to see how much Justin and I have improved as a doubles team from the beginning of our college career,” Hernandez said. “He can get really fired up, and I’m able to feed off of his energy and continue to stay positive even if things aren’t working out. He can pull off some big shots in crucial moments to help set me up and he has really good hands up at net,” Hernandez continued.

Embedded within their formula of  success is their history together. The chemistry Agbayani and Hernandez have playing together has a history that dates back further than this past year as freshmen on the UC Irvine team.

“Playing with Justin is a ton of fun for me. Probably one of the biggest reasons that is, is because I’ve grown up playing with him,” Hernandez said.

Having known each other since they were both about 10 years old, it comes as no surprise that the two tennis players have practiced and participated in multiple tournaments together since then. From elementary school to high school, it is only fitting that their next phase of playing competitive tennis would bring them to the same college team.

“It’s awesome to end up playing college tennis with him now after all the hard work we put in practicing with each other,” Agbayani said. “He’s basically a brother to me.”

Playing together in the tournament as a doubles team was therefore something of a homecoming for the two. According to Hernandez, the victory at the end was a “really good feeling.”