2004 Preview

Jan. 14, 2004

The Cal men's tennis team guided by head coach Peter Wright, look to uphold the excellence and tradition that people have come to expect from the of Cal tennis program. Since the late 90s, the Bears have consistently improved, building up to last year's team which tallied a dual meet record of 21-5, and finishing the No. 4 ranked team in the country.

But with the departure of five seniors due to graduation from that highly-ranked team, coach Wright and the Bears face new challenges in 2004.

Despite a large influx of young talent, the Bears are still optimistic, and rightfully so. Upper classmen Conor Niland, Balazs Veress and Wayne Wong are poised to lead this promising group to, yet another, NCAA bid this spring.

Niland enters the spring as one of the hottest players in the region. After a breakout sophomore campaign, which saw the native of Limerick, Ireland go 27-12 - including a commanding 18-6 record on courts No.1 & 2 - Niland entered the fall rated No. 25 player nationally. Sparkling during the three month long tournament schedule, Niland proved he was worth such a gaudy ranking. Niland brought home the ITA All-American Consolation Championship, as well as the ITA Northwest Regional title. From October 10 -20, Niland was the finest player in the country, winning 10 matches in a row, in dominating fashion, dropping just two sets out of 22 total. He finished the fall tournament schedule, 12-4, and charges into the spring ranked No. 3 in the region and No. 10 nationally.

Veress and Wong are two seniors looking to finish their careers on a high note. Veress is coming off a 19-14 season last year, drawing many of the tougher opponents on the Bears' slate. He reached the round of 16 at the NCAA Championships, in 2003, and entered the fall ranked No. 83 nationally. Veress, nagged by an injury, never quite put it all together in brief and spotty fall action, posting a 3-4 record. But he's confident that a healthy spring would lead to increased productivity for he and the Bears. Veress finds himself No. 19 regionally and No. 91 nationally.

Wong enters the spring ranked No. 24 in the region, and is labeled by opposing coaches as a player on the rise. After a very promising beginning to his Cal career, going 24-14 as a sophomore, Wong was forced to miss much of the 2002-03 season due to injury. But the time away from the court has only fueled Wong's fire and passion, winning his first three matches back this fall en route to a 6-2 overall record. Those six victories ranked second on the team behind Niland this fall.

Behind the Bear 'Big Three,' Cal returns only one other player, junior Patrick Briaud, with collegiate dual meet experience.

Briaud went 9-14 as a sophomore last spring. Though his record was below .500, the experience he gained was invaluable and will be used as a springboard to launch himself into the spring of 2004. During the fall, he picked up three encouraging victories against worthy opponents, and reached the round of 32 at the ITA Northwest Regional Championships. Under the tutelage of Wright, Briaud looks to blossom and become a contributing factor in the Bears' success.

Two other Bears, senior Kuni Minato and sophomore Dean Wallace, have collegiate experience.

Wallace competed in just seven matches in his redshirt freshmen season, and an additional seven last fall.Wallace hopes to master Wright's system, to become a more polished player for the Golden Bears.

After transferring from the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., Minato sat out all of last season. But after a promising fall, which saw him compile a 4-3 record in tournament play, he seems poised to make his presence felt this spring.

With just six returnees, and out of those, only two with experience playing on courts No. 1 or No. 2 - the Bears will have to look to their youth to provide much needed depth. But Cal has a talented group of four newcomers to choose from in Tyler Browne, Jacob Leivent, Andreas Petersen, and John Pettit.

Coach Wright is very high on his new class of players and was pleased with how competitive they were in the fall facing some of the best players on the collegiate level. The four are comprised of three freshmen and a junior. All four came away with confidence-building wins in each tournament they competed in. Browne and Leivent stepped to the forefront early, making the round of 16 at the ITA Northwest Regional and tallying records of 5-4 and 5-3, respectively.

In doubles action, Browne quickly found a partner in Wallace, posting an 8-2 mark. The tandem won their first six matches, making the Bulldog Classic final. The two also stacked up well against the region's elite, advancing to the round of 16 at the ITA Northwest Regional.

The team of Niland and Veress should be formidable in the spring, as well. The tandem competed in only five matches this fall, but in those matches they registered wins at the Audi Napa Valley Tennis Classic and the Icy Hot/ITA All American event.

Briaud has also proved that he has a knack for doubles. In 2003, with seven different partners, Briaud compiled 23 wins to only 13 losses. He may be counted on again to secure much needed victories in doubles competition.

Wright will rely on youth to fill in the holes left by the departure of a talented senior class. But despite the losses, the team is more confident than ever that they'll continue to compete at a top level, behind the consistent play of Niland and the rapid development of young stars.

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