The Bruins fought all season for the top. Now it’s their chance to take the conference throne.
But that’s no easy task.
No. 2 UCLA men’s tennis will face a gauntlet of talent as it plays for the Pac-12 championship title in Ojai, California, over the weekend.
Stanford, No. 16 California and No. 8 USC are all still on their feet after two rounds of play.
“This means more,” said junior Mackie McDonald. “I think there’s a different vibe to it and if we win this then I guess we’re the ultimate Pac-12 champs.”
A Pac-12 championship would only bolster the Bruins’ already impressive regular season resume.
“It’s momentum,” said coach Billy Martin. “It’s trying to make sure that we’re playing well going into the NCAA Tournament, finishing off the regular season with a high note. There’s a lot of pride involved, history to continue to do well up here at Ojai.”
The last time the Bruins captured both the regular season title and a tournament championship was in 2013.
UCLA (20-2, 7-0 Pac-12) enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed, giving them a bye until the semifinal Friday where they will face Stanford (14-9, 4-3), who knocked Oregon out of the tournament in the quarterfinal Thursday.
“Whoever we play might have a little advantage because they’ve played on the courts already, they’ve had a match,” said senior Karue Sell. “But I don’t really think there’s a huge advantage for either. I’d rather start in the semis.”
The Cardinal has exposed important vulnerabilities in the Bruins over the course of the season – particularly in doubles.
UCLA has dropped the doubles points in each of its last two matchups against Stanford in February and April. The No. 2 doubles pair of senior Karue Sell and junior Joe Di Giulio, and No. 3 doubles pair of junior Gage Brymer and freshman Max Cressy have both dropped their doubles matches against the same Cardinal opponents.
“I feel like the last couple times we played Stanford we were all a little too tentative, thinking too much about the outcome and not the execution,” Sell said. “That’s a problem in doubles because it’s so fast. We just have to execute better and not think about winning or losing.”
Stanford also has significant threats in singles with two players ranked in the top-100 including No. 12 Tom Fawcett.
McDonald has handled Fawcett easily at the No. 1 spot this season, beating him in both matches. But Fawcett’s size and strength make him a formidable opponent nonetheless.
“It definitely helps him with his serve,” McDonald said. “Then again, he’s big so he doesn’t move that well so I feel like I have an advantage there once we get into the rally. I just feel like the more points I play, the better off I’ll be against him.”
If UCLA defeats Stanford, it will face the winner of No. 16 Cal and No. 8 USC Saturday evening.
The Trojans defeated the Bruins in the semifinal last year, but the Bruins defeated the Trojans 4-2 in their most recent matchup last week.