The APU men’s tennis team defeated UC San Diego for the third time this season in order to advance to their second straight NCAA National Tournament
The Azusa Pacific Cougars men’s tennis team has advanced to their second straight NCAA Division II Nationals appearance, their third in the last four years, after earning a dominant 5-1 victory over UC San Diego in the NCAA West Regional playoff match on Monday.
“We definitely played better in doubles and better in singles compared to earlier in the season against UC San Diego,” head coach Mark Bohren said. “I really think it’s been constantly being on the road for a month, from Florida, to going down to San Diego, then the PacWest Tournament, so it was nice to get one more home match which was really cool. It made a difference and our players were pretty relaxed.”
This was the third time this season that the Cougars faced off against UC San Diego, with all three matches resulting in victories for APU. The history between APU and UCSD tennis programs has become an intense rivalry over the recent years, as both programs have faced off against each other with a spot on the line for the national tournament for the past three years. UC San Diego won that first matchup in 2016, but the Cougars have now punched their ticket to nationals while ending UCSD’s season two years in a row.
The Cougars got off to a strong 2-1 start in doubles competition against UCSD leading, as the freshman duo of Ryan Nuno and Jesse Haas dominated their set against UCSD’s Eskil Jarlskog and Neil Tengbumroong by a score of 8-2. Graduate student Oliver Frank and freshman Jakob Schnaitter took care of business on their court, winning 8-4 against Sreeganesh Manoharan and Marc Isaia.
“It’s always intense when we play UC San Diego because the history of it and the rivalry,” Frank said. “Today, taking care of business in doubles by winning two out of three really gave us the confidence to play loose in singles. Everyone was fired up because this was the step that we needed to take to get to nationals, so we were just amped up. Everyone did their job and played out of their minds.”
The momentum that the Cougars had from doubles carried well over into singles, where APU would end up running away with the match.
Schnaitter looked nearly perfect in his matchup against Isaia, winning 6-1, 6-1 in the third slot. The same went for Frank who also won 6-1, 6-1 against Eric Tseng. Both the wins gave the Cougars a 4-1 lead in the match, meaning that it only took one more singles victory for the Cougars to win the match. With the Cougars leading in three of their four remaining singles matches, victory was certain for APU.
That final singles victory came from sophomore Ronald Kang, who defeated Eskil Jarlskog, 7-5, 6-1, leaving the three other singles matches unfinished and gave the Cougars their final 5-1 victory on the day.
The No. 11 Cougars are now 26-2 on the season and will travel to Surprise, Ariz. for the 16-team national tournament which will begin on May 9. The Cougars first opponent will be revealed on Wednesday, May 2 when the NCAA announces the draw.
The Cougars will be on familiar territory in Arizona, as they consider it to be their home away from home.
“After winning the PacWest Championship, we were already looking forward to nationals, but this was the first step that we had to take because if lost today, we’re out, so we took this very seriously,” Frank said. “Going to nationals for everyone is a great experience. For me it’s my last, I started my very first individual national championship [in Surprise, Ariz.] and to be able to go back to Arizona again – we just love the courts, facilities and conditions over there and we were there two weeks ago. We consider it to be our second home court, and now on such a big stage for nationals, it’s a great way to finish the season for everyone and for my collegiate career as well.”
Bohren added that if there was any team capable of bringing a national championship to APU, it would be this team.
“We have some experience, we have some seniors but we don’t want to overlook this opportunity. We want to see if we can do something that we haven’t done before. Our goal is to win that first point of that first match and then the ultimate is to be there on the last day. We’ll see what happens, but this is the one team, probably the only team I’ll have at APU who is at this level to compete in the national tournament,” Bohren said.