The UC Riverside men’s tennis team (1-6, 0-0) has struggled to find any positive takeaways this season, picking up only one win on the season so far. It also doesn’t help that the team has had to make quite the adjustment in filling in six roster spots due to seniors graduating last year. This team mostly consists of underclassmen, only two seniors are on the roster this season — Cooper Bridge and redshirt senior Jack Felich — and there are some prominent signs of growth being stunted that need to be taken care of immediately.
“It’s nothing to hide,” Head Coach Mattias Johansson stated when asked about the disappointing start, “We had a slow start last season too. The only difference from last season, when we turned it around, is that those seniors knew what it took to win. The group of freshmen this year doesn’t know how to win quite yet. It’s a work in progress.” Fitting quite perfectly to his words, the Highlanders started 1-6 last year as well, finishing the season just below .500 with a 13-14 record — which is the best win-loss record to date in UCR men’s tennis history.
It’s not as if the Highlanders are completely out of hope, however. Young players on the team, like freshman Nabil Abdallah are described by Johansson as a player that, “understands what it takes to win.” Although it’s yet to consistently translate into wins, these intangible traits — like being mentally tough, are absolutely essential to succeed for years to come. Hopefully the rest of the underclassmen will soon be viewed as such in the eyes of Johansson so they can progress together as a program.
If the team wants to at least match last season’s record, they’re going to have to find some answers as soon as possible. Part of what irks Johansson, and any tennis coach for that matter, is that too many of the losses occur through straight sets. Even the act of forcing a third set to extend the match, win or lose, would serve as a rare silver lining to this disappointing start of a season. Doing so would at least show Johansson that each individual is putting his 100 percent effort into their respective match.
“We lost three three-setters (three-set matches) today, which could’ve turned out way different,” Johansson said after the team’s loss to Weber State. “This was a much better kind of effort. If we could keep this up, hopefully we’ll be able to turn these honorable losses into much-needed wins.”
When asked if he expects more out of the upperclassmen or underclassmen, Johansson wasn’t hesitant to speak his true thoughts, “I’d like to think it’s a combination of both, but results-wise the upperclassmen have been playing the best. It’s really up to the younger players to step up and win; the honeymoon is over.”
Men’s tennis finished up their Las Vegas road trip on Sunday morning, Feb. 5, against Youngstown State. Their next match will be at home at the SRC tennis courts versus Azusa Pacific University on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 10 a.m.