Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series previewing the UC Davis fall sports.
Coach Eric Steidlmayer’s first season with UC Davis men’s tennis — 2012-13 — saw the Aggies carve out a nothing-to-shout-about 8-13 mark.
As the No. 6 seed in the Big West Conference, UCD exited the postseason in a first-round loss to Pacific.
But take a closer look at the scores in those matches. Local fans can see a marked improvement (no blowouts, close outings) from previous seasons.
A busy summer, in which the Aggies played a jam-packed tournament schedule, has the former UC San Diego mentor thinking his guys “aren’t that far away.”
“That far away” from what and when? The Enterprise talked with Steidlmayer about what’s happening on the UCD courts.
“I think our summer was a huge step up from (the previous year),” the engaging coach explains. “I urge our guys to play circuit tourneys … and it doesn’t matter where they are. Just play.”
Adam Luba and Alec Haley made noise at area ITA gatherings, top recruit Alec Adamson (Corona del Mar) was playing near home in Southern California and UCD’s top returners from 2012 — Brett Bacharach, Parker Kelley and Kyle Miller — were off to France for eight tournaments in four weeks.
“That was kind of our goal,” Steidlmayer says. “It was great experience for everyone … (tournaments are) where we can get our guys a little better. And that’s what they’ve done. They’re trying to improve and that’s a good start to the season.”
In college tennis, the year-long schedule is broken into fall tournaments and spring dual meetings with Big West Conference Championships and NCAA bids at the end of the rainbow.
After the Sept. 21 Aggie Pro-Am fundraiser (at Marya Welch Tennis Center), the Fresno State Bulldog Classic (Sept. 27-29) is the first of five invitationals that will include UCD.
It’s not until Jan. 18 at Santa Clara that the Aggies begin mano-a-mano play with other schools.
On that dual slate, look for West Coast Conference members San Francisco (Feb. 1), Loyola Marymount (Feb. 2) and Saint Mary’s (Feb. 15) in Davis.
The Aggies will play at USC (Feb. 21), the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships (at UCSB, starting Feb. 27) and Nevada (March 28) before opening Big West competition at home with UC Irvine on March 30.
In the quest to improve on that 8-13 mark, Steidlmayer sees it starting with the world travelers, Kelley, Miller and Bacharach.
Last season, Miller went 14-7 in singles, Kelly was 12-8 and Bacharach (only a freshman) was 11-10.
“Those guys were consistent last year at winning,” Steidlmayer says. “(Each was) over .500, and that’s tough to do at 2-3-4. They are guys we’re going to count on; guys that we want to not only do that again, but to take another step forward this spring.”
Add UCD’s 15th ranked recruiting class to the senior leadership of Miller and Kelley, and Big West tennis fans sense something is brewing with the Aggies.
Besides Adamson, new to campus will be James Wade (San Marino) and Bryce McKelvie (Valley Christian, San Jose).
“(Adamson) is a big kid, 6-5,” his new coach continues. “He’s grown into his body more last year, and that is when his results have really improved. He’s kind of finding his game and his body at the same time.”
According to TennisRecruiting.net, Adamson is the nation’s No. 49-ranked prep player and, with his height, brings a sizzling serve to town.
Wade, as No. 1, guided his Titans to a Southern Section CIF D-II crown.
“It was a great high school career from a great program. It’s good for us that (James) has been part of a tough team that competed for titles,” Steidlmayer adds. “He’s really athletic and wants that team success.”
Steidlmayer likes McKelvie’s versatility, noting he could evolve as a singles and doubles player.
“At 6-3, he crushes serves and I know he’s going to develop a ton,” the coach says with a smile. “All three can help us. We’re happy to have them here.”
Three parts veteran stability (and ability). Three parts fresh blood. And don’t forget returners like Haley, Luba, Adam Levie and Mitch Thorp …
The recipe is there. Now it’s time for coaches Steidlmayer and his assistant Michael Meyer to bake it at the right temperature.
Notes: The Welch Tennis Center has refurbished a couple of its courts, added a beautiful new sign and entryway and put a shade element over the bleachers. The Division-I-worthy venue has been a mixed bag for attendance, but Steidlmayer hopes the Davis tennis community will come out on provide some off-the-court fire for his charges: “(Crowds) make it fun and gets everybody excited. We’ve had some sparse crowds and we had big crowds. Sac State probably had 250 people. That’s a pretty good crowd for tennis and making noise (makes) it a really fun day. That’s something we really enjoy, having people come out and watch us play.” … Want to get involved in the Aggie Pro-Am, either as a returning player or financial contributor? Call Ashley Williams at 530-754-2593. … Steidlmayer took UCSD to 12 consecutive NCAA appearances. His 2011 Tritons were 20-0 during the regular season. He is a UC San Diego graduate and spent two years as an Aggie assistant (1997-98).
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.