COLLEGE STATION, Texas ­””mdash; As if frozen in place, UCLA senior Harel Srugo did not move from his position hunched on the fence that separated his Court 3 from the rest of the George P. Mitchell Tennis Center. He draped a towel over his face, but it could not shield his emotions, which were as clear as the blue Texas sky to the crowd of a few hundred that had just witnessed his heartbreaking three-set defeat.

Given an opportunity to decide the fate of his team’s season, Srugo came up inches short.

For Bruin fans, it was as shocking as it was painful; it certainly looked like Srugo had the advantage in the match that was set to decide which team would move on to the NCAA Championship.

“I guess I felt Srugo looked a little bit fresher,” coach Billy Martin said. “Although the other kid did a great job of pulling it out.”

Leading 4-3 in the final set, the UCLA senior was up 40-15 with a chance to break, but Ohio State’s Justin Kronauge battled back to take the game, tying it back up.

In the break that followed between games, Kronauge took an injury timeout because his leg had cramped up. Srugo put on a new shirt and stepped onto the empty court, running in place and swinging his racket to keep lose.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Soon after play resumed, Kronauge was visibly limping. His serves were at half-speed and his ground strokes were more like lobs.

But Srugo couldn’t take advantage.

“He was definitely a more gutsy player on the court and I was just trying to put the ball back in play, not aggressive,” Srugo said. “And in moments where it gets tight, the more gutsy player gets the most wins.”

Srugo lost the next two games and it was over. The set, the match and the Bruins’ season.

At the end it looked as if Srugo was just trying to extend the match, knowing that Kronauge’s injury would not allow him to keep playing much longer, but instead Srugo’s play sunk down to the level of his opponent. Having finished their own matches, Srugo’s teammates stayed close to him for most of the final set.

“(You) just feel anxious, nervous, with the feeling that you can’t do anything to help him,” said senior Michael Look, the Bruins’ other captain. “You can cheer, but you aren’t the one out there doing it for him. He has to do it for himself and I think that’s the hardest thing, just to sit and watch a teammate go about his business.”

After a season-long hand injury kept him out of the singles lineup for many of the Bruins’ matches ““ including their 4-0 February loss to the same Buckeye team ““ Srugo worked hard to make a comeback, which he had completed just in time for the NCAA Championships.

But with the crushing way his season ““ and collegiate career ““ finished, Srugo found it hard to pull himself away from a memory that is bound to linger.

“I look at the end,” he said, “and maybe I shouldn’t look at the end because the end is pretty bitter, but that is all I can think about now.”

But despite the dark clouds that hang over his present consciousness, even Srugo himself can see the release that lies on the horizon.

“There’s two options,” he said. “Like my former coach told me, either you get depressed and put your head down to the ground or be with it and say, “˜that’s life.’”