Five Southern California schools are headed to the 2016 Tennis On Campus (TOC) National Championships in Cary, North Carolina in April. After fierce competition at the Southern California Sectional Championship in February, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UCLA, USC, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University finished in the top five, earning bids to TOCs biggest and most prestigious tournament of the year.
Four of the five have done this before, but there is one newcomer to the group. San Diego State, led by senior Jenny Buddy, has been recognized as a club affiliated with the school for less than four years. In that time frame, Budd has been able to cultivate an uber-competitive team, by building from the ground up. It’s been her dream to make it to Nationals, and this year that dream has come true. SDSU won a suspenseful Super-Tiebreak deciding match against UC San Diego to claim the fifth spot.
“It felt absolutely incredible to clinch that fifth place spot at Sectionals,” Budd said of the win. “I was so excited that I cried tears of joy after Juan (Reyes) hit that ace in the Super-Tiebreak to close out the match.”
UC Santa Barbara finished fourth in the section, despite losing a couple of starters from last year. The Gauchos dominated Pool Play, dropping only two sets the entire first day. In the contest against USC for third place, the team came up a little short.
The USC team knew it was headed to the National Championships before the Sectional Championship began. The Trojans earned its bid by finishing second at the 2015 Spring Invitational in Tucson. Each year, the winner and finalist at that tournament receive automatic bids to Nationals the following year. Southern California teams always perform well and for the past few years, the section has had extra bids to hand out at Sectionals because of it. The Trojans pulled out of Nationals last year and the team is looking forward to getting back to the competition in Cary.
“We are super excited for Nationals this year. Our practices are much more focused. Our mentality is very different from the past,” senior captain Javeed Kassam said. “We’ve got the talent to do great things, but we’re trying not to focus on simply winning. We’re trying to focus on maximizing our potential. If we can successfully do that, I think as a team we will be very proud of where that leads us.”
In February, UCLA and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, two veteran clubs, battled for the top spot in the section. After trading doubles sets with Cal Poly, securing the women’s doubles, 6-4, and UCLA taking the men’s doubles set in a Tie-Break, the Mustangs were one up heading into singles. UCLA won both singles, which put the Bruins up by two games going into the mixed doubles. That’s where the Mustangs pulled ahead, downing the Bruins 6-1 and securing a 26-23 victory.
“Our team is thrilled to be back in North Carolina for Nationals again this year,” fifth year Mustang Club President, Matt Giordano said. “A good portion of our team is graduating in June so ending our TOC careers at Nationals will be exciting. I think the fact (that) we have so many veterans will help us play well in close matches. Our team proved our hardiness at Sectionals this year. We had to win three very close matches to win the tournament.”
The Tennis On Campus National Championships will be contested April 14-16 at the Cary Tennis Park. Sixty-four teams from seventeen USTA sections will participate. Fans can stay up to date on local teams on the USTA Southern California TOC Facebook page, on Twitter, and online.
For the teams that didn’t qualify for the Nationals, the season is not over. The Spring Invitational will take place at Reffkin Tennis Center in Tucson, Arizona April 8-10.