UCLA’s young players have some big tennis shoes to fill.
Today, they will get their first chance to do so.
The No. 6 UCLA men’s tennis team kicks off the regular season against Brigham Young at the Los Angeles Tennis Center after looking strong in the two season-opening tournaments it took part in over the weekend.
The Bruins will look to freshmen Daniel Kosakowski, Clay Thompson and Adrien Puget to help carry the team against BYU after the loss of three star players from the 2010 season, including senior Nick Meister, who is out for the season with an injured hip.
“I’ve tried to stress to the guys that this will be a difficult year,” coach Billy Martin said. “We might lose some matches that we would have won in past years.”
Still, history shows that the Bruins know what it takes to defeat the Cougars.
UCLA routed BYU 7-0 in a match on Jan. 22, 2009, the last time the two teams met. BYU (2-0) is coming off of two wins last weekend against in-state rivals Weber State and Utah State.
Martin acknowledged the crucial roles his new freshmen must play in the upcoming season, but was confident in their abilities to pull through for the Bruins. As one of those vital newcomers, Kosakowski recognizes the importance of his role this season.
“Hopefully I can step up and be a leader,” he said.
Kosakowski was regarded as the No. 1 recruit in the country for the class of 2010 according to tennisrecruiting.net, while Thompson was ranked No. 3. Puget did not compete in the fall and joined the team in January.
As for veteran leadership, senior Amit Inbar is as good as they come. Inbar, who had success with Meister as his doubles partner for the past two years, will have a new partner this season.
Inbar has embraced his role as a leader, both on and off the court.
“I want to show these guys that every match counts,” Inbar said. “They are a great group of guys with a great work ethic, so I’m just trying to give them confidence.”
Indeed, Martin has eased the workload on his players leading up to today’s season opener in order to make sure they are not feeling tired.
“From a coaching standpoint, I want to pull back just a little bit,” Martin said. “When you get this close to a match, you want to taper down so that (the players) are really fresh.”
With that said, it remains to be seen how Kosakowski, Thompson and Puget ““ the cornerstones of the team ““ respond to the challenges at hand.
“They’re excited and generally a little nervous,” Martin said of his new players. “But they’re pretty experienced so it will wear off after a few games.”