Jan. 13, 2006
Santa Clara, Calif. - After graduating four valuable seniors last year, the Santa Clara men's tennis team will have to regroup and find a way to replace some of the best players in school history. The four-member Class of 2005 included Francisco Zepponi (No. 1 in career singles wins with 75), Taylor Bedilion (No. 3 in career singles wins with 75 and No. 8 in career doubles wins with 56), Eric Kochanski (2005 Mad Dog of the Year and Most Improved Bronco ) and Ben Hidalgo, one of the program's most passionate competitors.
Despite the loss of veteran leadership, the Broncos bring back a strong core of players that is not short on talent, desire or determination. Along with six returning letterwinners, SCU welcomes a highly-touted group of freshmen to the Mission Campus. Fourth-year head coach George Husack acknowledges that his squad may encounter challenges at the beginning of the season due to a lack of experience, but by the end of the year, they could find themselves in the national rankings and also contend for a berth into the NCAA tournament. Santa Clara opens its season this Monday with a home doubleheader against local rivals UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. Game times are set for 9:30 a.m. and noon at the Degheri Tennis Center.
"Experience is thin, as we only have one player on our team with more than a year of collegiate experience," admits Husack, who guided the Broncos to five wins over nationally ranked teams in 2005 on their way to an overall record of 14-11. "This team will go through good times and tough ones. However, once they learn to manage both, you'll see a lot of success from this group."
Continues Husack: "We are young and also determined to improve as players and as a program... This is a tight group of competitors that work extremely hard day in and day out."
As the most experienced member of the Bronco squad, junior Bobby Rasmussen used his aggressive all-court game to tally 17 singles victories last year, the second most on the team, and will be one athlete that Husack will depend upon for veteran leadership out on the court. Junior Jan Macek and redshirt sophomore Kevin McQuaid will be two other players that the team will lean on to guide them to victory. A hard hitter from all areas of the court, Macek completed his first year as a Bronco last season to the tune of 16 singles victories after transferring from Southern Mississippi. McQuaid sat out last season to rest a knee injury, but has returned healthy and eager to build upon a solid freshman campaign, where he posted 18 singles victories. Husack will not only look to the trio for guidance, but also to start the season in the upper half of the singles line-up.
"Bobby Rasmussen and Kevin McQuaid have been part of our program for two years so they know what playing at Santa Clara is all about," stated Husack. "And even though Jan has only been a Bronco for one year, he's our elder statesman with international experience to supplement his collegiate tenure."
Returning players like sophomores A.J. Kerin and Blane Shields look to have an impact on the bottom half of the singles ladder, as they will use their talents and gifts to fight for a starting position. During his rookie season, Kerin accumulated a team-leading 21 singles wins, counterpunching his way to victory, while Shields used the year to adapt to college tennis and improve upon his tennis intellect to add to his incredible athleticism. Newcomers Brian Brogan and Tommy Hicks will also figure to play a prominent role in determining the top six singles players on the roster. Brogan is an athletic and solid all-courter who achieved great success on the junior circuit, reaching a national ranking high of No. 30 in the USTA Boys' 18s singles. Hicks, another accomplished prep player, used his quickness and solid baseline strokes to grind out wins throughout his junior career. He then stepped onto the college scene by winning the Bronco Classic this past fall. Depth is a large component of this squad as Santa Clara will look to sophomore Chris Iwamura and freshmen Kenzo Hirakawa-Wong and Aneal Vallurapalli for contributions in the singles and doubles lineup.
To have a successful 2006 campaign, Husack will rely on the enthusiasm, competitiveness and development of this talented group. The team did not disappoint in the fall as they posted notable results and made significant strides with their games.
"We are fortunate to have such a solid group of players from top to bottom," said Husack. "I feel each one of them will have the opportunity to contribute throughout the season.
Competition in doubles will be just as fierce as it is in singles, as all 10 players have the ability to crack one of the three teams come gameday. The squad experienced the most success in the fall with the tandems of Macek and Rasmussen, McQuaid and Shields, and Brogan and Kerin. Husack will most likely begin the season with these teams but has the likes of Iwamura, Vallarupalli, Hirakawa-Wong and Hicks ready to step in at any moment.
"Doubles is such a vital component," said Husack. "Though the doubles point is only worth one point, it can really set the tone for a dual match. It's tough to sweep a victory against any team in singles."
One reason why Husack is so optimistic about this year is because of the extensive strength and conditioning regiment his team has endured throughout the young season. Under new strength and conditioning coaches Brien Shamp and Mike Salemi, the Broncos are being carefully monitored under a program that emphasizes speed, flexibility, strength and recovery. Additionally, planning a nutritious and balanced diet has also factored into maximizing the Broncos' potential out on the court.
"I have seen tremendous physical improvement with the players on the court and we continue to improve our knowledge of injury prevention. Brien and Mike have been a tremendous addition to our program," declared Husack.
With such a talented, yet unproven, crew on his hands, Husack has thrown together a demanding schedule that will test his young charge's abilities from the get-go. The Broncos' opponents this season are highlighted with a plethora of teams ranked in the preseason ITA poll, including Pepperdine (No. 9), California (No. 19), Southern California (No. 20), Boise State (No. 28), Tulsa (No. 46), Brigham Young (No. 63), Fresno State (No. 67), Montana State (No. 69), Oregon (No. 70), and Utah (No. 72). Overall, Santa Clara will compete in 29 dual matches and Husack believes that his young team will benefit from the extra competition and that it will contribute to their development and belief in their abilities as a team.
"We will play the most dual matches since I've been on campus, which I think will only make us better," proclaimed Husack about the demanding schedule he has lined up for his team. "There's no better way to improve than to learn in competition. We can take advantage of our youthful energy and depth throughout the season. The guys can't wait to compete. It should be interesting to see how we square off against our opponents."
With no seniors on a squad where the underclassmen outnumber the upperclassmen by nearly 2-to-1, many coaches would feel apprehensive about sending out such a team against some of the top-ranked programs in the nation. Husack, however, is extremely confident in his players' ability to compete at a high-level and has high hopes not only for this season, but for the future.
"This team reminds me a lot of our team from the 2002 season, where we only had one senior, one junior, and a slew of youngsters. Together, they learned how to compete as a team and win," remarked Husack, who was an assistant coach under then-head coach Sean Burns. "The 2002 squad was put together one of our best seasons ever and I wouldn't be surprised if this season we created some history ourselves. Our staff has worked hard to put together this group of Broncos and we now get to see how it all unfolds. We've had our dress rehearsals. It's going to be quite a show."