Serious Fun – SCTA Tennis On Campus Championship a perfect balance of competition and love of the game

by Colin Newton

The first thing that hits you about the Southern California Tennis On Campus Championship is how relaxed this weekend seems compared to some tennis matches.

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Rally sticks are wielded by players and parents alike. Student athletes crowd around individual courts, offering words of encouragement or last second coaching for their active teammates. The stone bleachers are weighed down by friends and family members, who chat as much as they cheer.

But underneath, everyone knows that there’s a serious competition going on. Today, Saturday, club teams from 16 different universities are playing to place in pools for Sunday’s matches. Tomorrow, four teams will win a spot to travel to North Carolina for the USTA National Championship in April.

USC - A

USC – A

“Competition is fun, as long as you win,” Matt Giordano, an economics student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said with a laugh.

Giordano, who is a former treasurer and current president of his school’s club team, said that students on the Cal Poly team understand the balance.

“They get the balance of having fun and staying competitive,” he said.

UC San Diego - A

UC San Diego – A

One of the benefits of playing on a club team is that you can play for more than four years, Giordano said.

“I’m a graduate student,” he said. “It’s nice I can play as a graduate.”

There are other perks too.

UC San Bernadino - A

UC Santa Barbara – A

“I definitely like that we get to play other schools,” Giordano said. “I like traveling and playing USD, Santa Barbara.”

“It’s another way to meet kids outside your circle,” he added.

One student Giordano didn’t have to travel far to meet is Zeke Brown, an engineering student at Cal Poly. Brown has been partnering with Giordano on the tennis courts since high school, and the two have been roommates at Cal Poly. As well as sharing a love of the game, they feed off each other’s expansive senses of humor, laughing back and forth about victories, loses and the respective trips to get there.

UCLA - B

UCLA – B

“I’m looking forward to the taste of victory,” Brown said.

“We were oh so close our freshman year,” Giordano added.

“We had fun though.”

“That car ride to Arizona was a lot of fun.”

UCLA - A

UCLA – A

Although Brown’s advice to people new to the club would be to lighten up a little, he never loses sight of the thrill of the tournament scene.

“I just like the competition,” Brown said. “Practicing is fun, but tournaments are where you actually compete.”

Robin Young, a graduating senior at UC Santa Barbara, and her brother, Ryan Young, a freshman at Cal Poly Pomona, are two other students who have found a balance between intensity and enjoyment in the club system.

UCI - A

UCI – A

“It lets us be student athletes,” Robin Young said. “It’s like a step up above intramurals and a step below D1.”

“It’s completely exceeded my expectations,” she added. “It’s a great opportunity, and I think it’s great we can play really competitive tennis.”

Like Giordano, Robin Young is looking to continue playing in grad school. The communications major is hoping to get into a university that has a tennis club. It’s something she’d recommend to any student of any age for its flexibility.

San Diego State University - A

San Diego State University – A

“Definitely check it out depending on whatever school you go to,” she said. “There’s always club tennis.”

The diverse group of athletes who make up club teams, including students studying subjects from engineering to business, was an interesting aspect for Ryan Young, who is studying food science.

“They’re not all in my college or major,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t have met them without this program or club team.”

Pepperdine - A

Pepperdine – A

As well as seeing his own club team grow, Ryan Young said he enjoys seeing the same students at tournaments and establishing friendships with them.

“Obviously, it can get a little heated on the court,” he said. “Afterwards, the opponents introduce themselves to each other and becomes acquaintances, if not friends.”

Sunday, the second day of the tournament, there is an edge in the air that was not present yesterday. Today almost feels like a different tournament. Almost.

CC - A

Claremont Colleges – A

“There’s a lot that we’re trying to fight for,” said Dani Williams, a graduating senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, after winning a set 6-2 against UC Irvine.

“There’s definitely relaxing moments, but there’s a lot on our minds,” she said, glancing back quickly at the court as another match between Cal Poly and Irvine began.

“We go to have fun, but we also do well,” she said. “What you put in is what you get out. I’m really competitive, and I think this was really, really good.”

As well as gaining a new sense of playing on a team, Williams said being a club expanded her circle of friends. And after graduation, she’ll try to stay in touch with her teammates.

“I definitely am really close with my old doubles partner,” she said. “A few freshmen, we’ve gotten closer.”

And there’s always the game.

“I’m going to miss the competitiveness,” she said.

Cries from the court drew everyone’s attention. The entire Cal Poly team, and the flock of attending parents, gathered around the black chain link, leaning as far over it as they safely could—cheering on, caught up in the competition—perfectly balanced.

By the end of the weekend, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo would take top spot in the gold bracket. UCLA had earned the right on Saturday to face Cal Poly, and the two teams were evenly matched. UCLA maintained a small lead over Cal Poly after the winning three out of four individual matches, but Cal Poly dominated mixed doubles, ending up with a 6-1 win and a 26-32 team win over UCLA.

USC easily defeated UC Santa Barbara, and the two teams settled into third and fourth place respectively.

This year was unusual because five teams were selected to go to USTA Nationals in North Carolina—USC had a guaranteed entry—and so the clash between San Diego State University and UC San Diego took on extra significance.

Although SDSU entered the mixed doubles match with a three-game lead, UCSD edged ahead by a game, sending the schools into overtime. The two teams tied in overtime, and the match went into super tiebreaker—first team to seven points winning the match. SDSU finally won at 7-2, taking the fifth and final slot to go to North Carolina. This is the first time the team has ever gone to the Nationals.

UC Irvine and Pepperdine’s teams round out the gold bracket ranking in seventh and eighth place; if any of the bracket winners cannot go to North Carolina, UCSD, UCI and Pepperdine would be next in line. UCLA’s B team beat out Cal Poly in the silver bracket, granting them a paid entry to the USTA Spring Invitational in Tucson this April.

For additional information regarding the USTA Tennis On Campus program in Southern California, please contact Madeline Segura at Segura@scta.usta.com or 310-208-3838.

USTA Tennis On Campus is designed to provide college students with a host of opportunities for team camaraderie, social networking and unrivaled competition through tennis—without the demands of a varsity program. The fun co-ed format is designed to accommodate all levels of play, and the top teams can compete for regional and national championships. Tennis On Campus helps students maintain active and healthy lifestyles through their college years and helps them to stay connected to the lifetime sport of tennis.

About the Author: Colin Newton is a Freelance Journalist who writes for several Southern California publications. He has previously written about the CSUN Tennis Club and Tennis On Campus Program.

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