No one can predict the future, but for the UCLA men’s tennis team, last weekend’s ITA Division I Men’s Team Indoor Championship was an important barometer going into the rest of the season and the NCAA Tournament.
After rebounding from a tough midweek loss to No. 1 Virginia with a semifinal finish at the indoor championship, the team is riding its momentum.
“I definitely think it’s motivating to get this far and know that we’re this close,” said junior Mackie McDonald. “Losing (in the semifinal) is just gonna make us more hungry and want to work harder so we can beat a team like (North Carolina) and win a championship. Our team is definitely closer after this loss, and we’re gonna come back and work really hard together.”
Every year, the top 16 teams in the nation compete at the indoor championship, which is regarded as the second most prominent tournament of the tennis season. It also serves as a measuring stick for how teams and individual players stack up against opponents they might face later in the season.
Success in February often correlates to success in May. In 11 of the past 15 years, at least one of the two indoor championship finalists has competed in the NCAA Tournament final. In five of those years, the same school won both the indoor championship and the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA’s performance in the indoor championship serves as a good indicator for its result at the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Bruins were bounced in the first round of the indoor championship and lost in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, one of the worst showings by a team under coach Billy Martin. In 2012 and 2014, UCLA reached the semifinal in both tournaments, and in 2013, they reached the indoor championship semifinal and ended the year as the NCAA runner-up.
“Going into Pac-12 season and the rest of the year, I think if we keep playing with confidence, good things will happen,” said sophomore Austin Rapp.
The Bruins showed resiliency and grit in Virginia, even in the dual matches they weren’t favored to win. UCLA’s indoor victories over then-No. 11 Georgia and then-No. 3 Texas A&M proved to the team that the struggles of a disappointing 2014-2015 season were completely behind them.
“After the year we had last year, we had some doubts if we were really gonna be able to compete with the best teams,” Martin said. “This tournament, I think, showed that we could play with almost anybody and expect to win.”