First-ranked Azusa Pacific beats Tritons, 8-1

The UCSD men’s tennis team opened its season on Feb. 5 with an 8-1 loss against the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics’ top-ranked Azusa Pacific University.

The Tritons couldn’t capture any of the three doubles matches at the start, giving the Cougars a 3-0 lead going into the singles matches. The men’s No. 1 doubles lost 2-8, while both No. 2 and No. 3 doubles lost very close matches at 6-8.

The men’s only match win came from No. 6 singles, junior Erik Oijala, who played Tom Jelsma in a three-set victory, 4-6, 6-2, 4-1.

“Oijala has battled injuries during his time at UCSD and was able to come out a victor against Azusa,” head coach Eric Steidlmayer said. “He played well, and that was certainly fun to see.”

At No. 1 singles, senior captain Bryan Swatt put up great hustle, but was outmaneuvered by a hard-serving opponent, Sam Fletcher, and lost the first set 1-6. Swatt came out fired up in the second set, but Fletcher was able to chase down some nicely placed shots and closed the match 3-6. Playing No. 2 singles, junior Brent Molden was able to pull out three sets against lefty Boris Bakalov; after winning the first set 4-6, Molden could not hang onto his lead, and lost the next two sets 2-6, 4-6.

UCSD freshman Eric Ruben played at No. 3 and capitalized on his opponent’s weak shots in the second set, but was still unable to convert key points and lost 1-6, 4-6. Sophomore Seth Spector played No. 4 singles, but was unable to defeat Azuza Pacific’s Adam Davidson, losing 6-1, 6-4.

“We learned a lot from the Azusa match,” Swatt said. “This was the first collegiate match for many of our starters. They were able to get a feel for how good competition is and this gave us an indicator as to where we are at [compared to other teams]. It was good that we faced them early in the season because it shows that we still have a lot to improve.”

Six seniors graduated last year, and only four players returned (including two starters), leaving the team with one senior.

“This year’s team is quite young from a match experience perspective,” Steidlmayer said. “We don’t have the seasoned veterans like we did last year.”

In 2004, the Tritons made a very impressive run to the NCAA Division II Championship Festival by defeating Hawaii-Hilo to advance to the Round of 16 for the first time since moving to Division II. But the season came to an end when the men’s winning streak was stopped by eventual National Champion West Florida, their overall record concluding at 18-10.

The Tritons’ next match will be an away game against Cal Poly Pomona on Feb. 10.