By John Nardolillo
UCI Women’s Tennis broke a tie in the conference standings with CSUN on Saturday afternoon, edging the Matadors 5-2 at the Anteater Tennis Stadium. The ‘Eaters suffered a hard-fought loss in doubles play, but were able to rebound in singles and register their first winning streak of the season.
Senior Sarah Gong and junior Mazy Watrous went down at number one doubles to the Matadors’ Mickey Hsu and Kristen Poei, 5-7. Sophomore Vivien Dvali and junior Taylor LeFridge were poised to take the match for the ‘Eaters at the number two court, up 5-1 in a set tiebreaker, but did not finish as CSUN earned the doubles point at number three. UCI senior Andrea Duva and freshman Stephanie Hazell erased a 3-game Matador lead but eventually lost 4-6 to the duo of Kiryang Kim and Mari Taslagyan.
The Anteaters were determined to keep the momentum from slipping away and stormed out of the gate to take the first set in five of the six singles matches. Duva claimed the first point for UCI with a tidy 6-3, 6-2 win in number five singles over Kim. Dvali won her first set at number two, 6-2, and was able to stave off a comeback attempt by CSUN’s Vivian Lin by winning the second set 7-5.
At number four singles, Watrous traded runs with Poei in an evenly matched affair before eventually losing, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4. With the match tied 2-2, the ‘Eaters put the exclamation point on their effort as Gong handled Hsu at number one, 6-4, 6-3, and LeFridge putting away the Matador’s Skyla Alcon at number three for the clincher, 6-2, 7-5.
UCI junior Cassidy Branstine tacked on the final tally for the Anteaters at number six singles with a victory over Taslagyan by way of seven-point match tiebreaker, 6-1, 6-7 (4-7), 1-1 (7-3), making it a 5-2 final score.
The win moves UCI to 3-4 in the conference and 5-14 overall as CSUN drops to 2-5 in the Big West and 8-12 overall. The ‘Eaters wrap up the regular season with a home match against UC-Riverside on April 20 before traveling to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the Coachella Valley for the Big West Championships starting April 28.
Coming in ranked #75 in the nation, UCI Men’s Tennis defeated reigning Division III champs and current West Region #1 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags 6-1 after the women’s match Saturday afternoon. The ‘Eaters were able to follow up the women’s team with a win of their own that saw six seniors play their final home match ever. The senior-laden roster relied heavily on their leadership and they will be sorely missed.
“They represented both the program and the school with class all four years,” said head coach Mike Saunders. “They’re a really close knit group. Personally, I’ve known a lot of these guys when they were teenagers before they came here. It was a real honor and a privilege to be able to coach them in their last year and hopefully we made it a meaningful year for them.”
The seniors, Caryl Hernandez, Justin Agbayani, Jonathan Poon, Tyler Pham, Jonathan Hammel and Nico Mertens all played like madmen with an energy appropriate for their last time suiting up at home.
To open doubles play, sophomore Luca Marquard and Hernandez pounced on the Stag duo of Glenn Hull and Lestter Yeh at number three doubles, 6-1, before Claremont responded with a win over number one duo Hammel and Pham, 6-4. The doubles point came down to the senior pair of Agbayani and Poon who edged Claremont’s Julian Gordy and Oliver Seifert, 7-5. The ‘Eaters seized a 1-0 lead and never looked back.
Pham and Hammel avenged their doubles loss with a quick pair of singles victories. Pham did not concede a game until the second set in his victory over Daniel Morkovine at number three, 6-0, 6-2, while Hammel easily handled Patrick Wildman, 6-3, 6-1, at number five.
Freshman Vatsal Bajpai earned the clinching point to put UCI up 4-0 with a win at number six singles over Lestter Yeh, 6-3, 6-2. Marquard put the finishing touches on Hull at number two, 6-3, 6-4, and Agbayani defeated Max Macey at number four, 7-5, 6-3, to put UCI one win away from a match sweep.
While the previous matches ended with little fanfare, a brutal battle of number ones waged on between UCI’s Nico Mertens and Claremont’s Skyler Butts, who carries a #3 singles ranking in all of Division III. Mertens filled in admirably for usual number one Sebastian Heim (sidelined with a hip injury) by playing composed, consistent tennis in the face of serve after serve from Butts. Mertens took the first set 6-3 with an ace on set point, and looked to have the match in hand. Butts dug deep, however, in by far the longest match of the day and stole the last two sets for the win, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The 6-1 victory puts Irvine at 15-7 overall and 2-2 in conference with two Big West games still on the docket. With Heim’s return probable, the ‘Eaters have their sights set on finishing strong before resting on their laurels.
“Great last win for the guys, but we have a lot of work left,” said Saunders. “We have two regular season matches and then we have to go out to Indian Wells and try to win a conference championship.”
UCI plays at Fresno State on April 21 and then on to UC Davis on April 23 before the Big West Championships at Indian Wells Tennis Garden April 28-May 1.