As the UC Davis men’s tennis team starts down its Big West Conference road, it must navigate through unfamiliar opponents with a new driver at the wheel.
But after his charges gained good experience in four nonconference events this fall, first-year Aggie head coach Eric Steidlmayer is confident that this UCD car is headed in the right direction.
The first stop on the spring portion of this Aggie journey is a Saturday match at Santa Clara. It will be the local men’s first official outing since the Pacific Invitational in November.
In getting that early taste of competition in the fall, Steidlmayer believes his squad has already made strides.
“One thing: the physicality is improving steadily since the fall’s start, both from an endurance and strength standpoint,” said Steidlmayer, who took over as UCD’s coach in July after 14 seasons at UC San Diego. “We also want to make sure our guys are staying professional mentally.
“They’re not professional players, but we want to make sure when we step out on the court — whether it’s for a match or practice — we’re aware of what we’re trying to do.”
The preseason course began with the Oct. 5 Aggie Invitational, where Toki Sherbakov — one of the three seniors on the 2012-13 squad — made an early statement, reaching the consolation finals in both singles and doubles.
Sherbakov followed that up by earning sixth place in the A singles flight at the UCSB Classic on Oct. 12, and paired with junior Adam Luba to finish seventh in Flight B doubles.
The Aggies then traveled to Saint Mary’s College for the Northwest Men’s Regional on Oct. 19. There, juniors Alec Haley and Kyle Miller advanced to the second round of the consolation doubles bracket before falling.
The fall tournament season ended on Nov. 5 in Stockton, where UCD freshman Adam Levie and the duo of Haley and Miller contended for top spots at the Pacific Invitational. The local doubles team ended up shutting out its opponents, 8-0, in the consolation finals, while Levie went the same distance before dropping a 6-3, 7-6 (4) decision.
“It was the best tournament for our team this fall, and I know the players are excited to see the improvements and to know that their hard work is paying off,” Steidlmayer said.
The experience gained in these nonconference events will be tested when UCD kicks off it spring campaign with a Saturday match at Santa Clara. Steidlmayer spoke of the challenge the Aggies will face from their in-state rivals:
“We know they’re tough. They have a lot of great players returning from last year, and they’re also adding some good international guys on top of that. They’re ranked within the top 40 in the nation. We’re going to have to play well to beat them, that’s for sure.”
While Steidlmayer’s mission is the improvement of his roster, the first-year coach has further ambition for his UCD squad.
“We want to be competitive in every conference match, and we want to win our fair share,” Steidlmayer said. “Last year, we won one conference match, so we’re looking to double or triple that, at least.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett