Both players and coaches of the UCLA men’s tennis team consider the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s National Team Indoor Qualifying Tournament that begins today a preview of what to expect for the NCAA tournament in the spring. What coach Billy Martin views as the second-most important tournament of the year for the Bruins comes directly after a strong showing at the Sherwood Collegiate Cup and a victory over UC Santa Barbara in the regular season’s first match.
The No. 3 Bruins will face off against the No. 57 Cal Poly Mustangs in their first of two qualifying matches this weekend. Referred to as the ITA Kick-Off Weekend, 60 men’s and 60 women’s teams around the country will compete for a berth in February’s Indoor Championship, which will take place in Seattle.
Sophomore Marcos Giron said the team feels that this year’s only indoor tournament is extremely important to the success of the season as a whole. The team could likely face multiple teams from the indoor tournament again in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s the only time the top 16 teams are at one site,” Martin said. “I like being able to see teams that I won’t see until the NCAA tournament. I will be as busy scouting and watching the other teams as I will be preparing our team and getting ready for our matches.”
After playing junior Adrien Puget in the No. 1 singles spot Wednesday, Martin has decided to give Giron a run at Cal Poly’s top singles player Andre Dome. Dome, who was briefly recruited by Martin in high school, earned Big West Men’s Tennis Athlete of the Week after going undefeated in singles and doubles in the team’s first two matches last week.
“I know their No. 1 player Andre Dome, and he’s a very good player,” Giron said. “I’m sure they’re going to give us their best, and we can’t take them lightly.”
Martin, who explained that Cal Poly coach Nick Carless is a very enthusiastic and hard working guy, expects to see the same efforts out of the Mustangs this afternoon.
“With our ranking and our tradition, any team that comes in here feels like a win over us could make its year, so I’m expecting them to be fired up and ready to go.”
Before the start of the season, Martin stressed the importance of focusing on doubles, and he was impressed by his players’ solid performance in the first match. The team’s mindset is that the doubles point is the easiest way to create momentum at the start of any match.
“We have to do our job for doubles, and then it should be easier to get some points in singles,” Puget said.
If the Bruins defeat the Mustangs today, they will face the winner of the match between Brigham Young University and University of South Florida Saturday. Last year, the team took down Alabama and then Fresno State in qualifying rounds before falling to Duke in the first round of the championships.
Looking forward at their goals for the season, Puget believes that this weekend will be the start of a very successful showing in this year’s intercollegiate tournaments.
“Our season expectations are to win the NCAA tournament, win the indoor (tournament) and win the Pac-12,” Puget said. “We are one of the top programs, and we have ambitions.”
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