The UC Irvine Club Tennis team is one of the section’s longest standing Tennis On Campus programs. The Anteaters have proven to be a force to be reckoned with in competition, finishing third at the 2017 Southern California Section Championship after a disappointing 2016 season. Regardless of their ranking, UCI never strays from their admirable sportsmanship both on and off the court, with numerous sportsmanship awards over the years at Section Championships, Spring Invitationals, and at the National Championships. This year, their story certainly shows not only a team with the same standard of sincerity, but also a team destined for the finals of the Tennis On Campus National Championship.
The road to the finals was not easy. After UCI dispatched the first two round robin opponents, University of Virginia was unquestionably the team to beat. The Cavaliers, known for their deep runs into the Gold Bracket at Nationals, showed the same tenacity but UCI was able to push the team into the Silver Bracket with a stunning 30-15 win in the final round of pool play.
In the Gold Bracket, UCI beat UPenn and squeezed past Georgia to stay unbeaten on the first day, but trouble brewed the next morning. Semifinal opponent Minnesota was primed and ready. The Gophers’ men’s doubles team laid out a 6-1 win over the Anteaters while the women didn’t fare much better. Down 1-4 in women’s doubles, UCI substituted their exchange student Yoshi Takashimizu, slamming the brakes on Minnesota’s momentum and completely turning the set around. UCI won women’s doubles 6-4, starting he push towards a semifinal win over Minnesota, 23-21.
“There are no words to describe the feeling from the energy and support the fans gave us,” Luu said. “I knew we had made some friends from the other schools but I did not expect almost everyone to be on our side cheering us on.”
The crowd erupted in excitement to see Takashimizu take the court with Cupino for mixed doubles, needing only one win to secure the title. The “Yo-Shi” chants filled the stadium once again as the duo warmed up. However, the Anteaters needed more than the crowd’s support for this set. Michigan flew into the final set with a vengeance, and stole the tournament win from the Anteaters with a 6-1 victory in mixed doubles.
“We all felt a companionship with UCI and wanted them to win so badly,” Gaucho Club President Lincoln Howarth said. “When they lost, a lot of us described the feeling as if we had lost as well. Since we were all coming from the same section, it felt like a fight that we were all in together. Watching UCI do so well and make it to the finals was like watching a close friend succeed.”
In true UCI fashion, when asked to reflect on the experience, the Anteaters all expressed their gratitude.
“I just want to thank everyone involved with this event, especially the USTA,” Luu said. “Thanks for giving students a chance to play competitively and experience it all through such an amazing event and team scenario.”