Bears Anxiously Await NCAA Tournament Invite

May 1, 2007

By Andrew Kim Daily Californian

May 1, 2007

Berkeley, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- With five matches remaining in the dual season, coach Peter Wright, one of the 12 members of the selection committee, set the course for the Cal men's tennis team by stating that it needed to win three of the five remaining matches in April to secure a postseason bid.

Exactly a month later, the Bears have met the goal set by their coach and are currently ranked No. 40, a position that will likely earn them one of the 33 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament during today's selection show at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNews.

Cal seems poised to receive a No. 3 seed in one of the 16 regional brackets, and if it does, the Bears will face a team with a national ranking between No. 17 and 32 in the opening round.

However, landing a spot in the tournament alone is no cause for celebration-comparing its personnel with the top teams in the country, Cal has certain areas to address before the tournament begins on May 11.

Aside from the notably dominant teams in the top five, most ranked teams pattern the following formula for success: a couple dominant singles performers-many of whom reside on the lower courts-preceded by a strong doubles game.

No. 8 USC, for example, relies heavily on Kaes Van't Hof (19-1 singles record) and Jason McNaughton (19-2) to provide consistent points in singles. Combine the Trojans' impressive run on courts three and five with their 55-11 doubles record, and you're left with a 20-2 dual season record.

'(The Trojans) have played impressive matches against us both times,' Wright said. 'We've been competitive with them, but their wins over us have been impressive. In order for us to beat a team like that, we have to be better than we have been.'

Similarly, Texas has found success this season despite an 8-14 record on court one, a 10-12 record on court two and a 9-12 record on court six. The Longhorns have parlayed the strong play of two individuals-Luis Diaz Barriga's 13-2 singles record and Josh Zavala's 15-6-and a consistent doubles game into a No. 11 national ranking.

The Bears have potential to play as well as both these teams, having the appropriate pieces to the puzzle. Junior Ken Nakahara has been Cal's reliable workhorse in singles all year long. Aside from his brief stint on court three, Nakahara tallied a 14-3 singles record on courts five and six this dual season.

'He's our rock,' sophomore Geoff Chizever said. 'I almost feel bad because we expect him to win all the time. When you see Ken (Nakahara) at the bottom of the lineup, you don't want to take him for granted, but it's almost like a guaranteed win.'

While multiple starters moved in and out of the lineup with injuries, Nakahara constantly delivered singles points for the Bears in the regular season. However, if Cal wishes to travel deep into the postseason, the other starters will likely need to step up their production.

On court one, the Bears haven't had the luxury of an ideal ace who could confidently walk onto the top court and consistently deliver points, as Conor Niland did last year with a 19-1 record on court one.

Junior Pierre Mouillon, despite displaying flashes of brilliance during the fall season, has merely kept his head above water with an 11-10 record. After concluding the tour season ranked No. 19 in the country, his ranking has dipped to No. 26.

On court two, captain Tyler Browne sports an 11-8 record- decent, but not dominant by any standards.

While Cal fought for several singles points down to the wire against the two top teams in the conference, its combined end result against USC and No. 10 UCLA is a dismal score of 1-27 in four matches-an alarming statistic for the Bears, who will likely be pitted against teams of that caliber in the NCAA tournament.

But if the aforementioned starters on the higher courts give Nakahara some help, Cal could be one or two consistent doubles teams away from being a dangerous squad in the tournament.

'It's huge,' Wright said when asked about the impact of the opening doubles point. 'The nice part for us is that we have some experienced teams going into the tournament, and Eoin (Heavey) and (Chizever) are having solid seasons with plenty of upside left.'

Wright mentioned before the start of the dual season that he wished to see better results in doubles than last year, when the Bears went 38-41. But things haven't panned out too well for Cal, which amassed a 22-29 doubles record during the dual season.

Nevertheless, the Bears remain optimistic that their doubles teams have the capacity to be successful in the NCAA tournament if Cal is extended a bid. Their confidence hasn't wavered despite the fact that the Bears have a sub-.500 record on all three courts.

'We're improving as we go,' Chizever said. 'I think with everyone, the more doubles matches they play the better they're getting. We've had some injuries and bad luck here and there, but we're definitely better than our record suggests.'

(C) 2007 Daily Californian via CSTV U-WIRE

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