Doubles Play Dooms Tritons In 5-3 Loss to Lynn

A 5-3 loss to Lynn University on May 10 in the Sweet-16 round of the NCAA Division-II National Championships sent the talented men’s tennis team home to La Jolla from Kansas City, Mo., where the team will contemplate the challenge of replacing three top seniors for next year.

Billy Wong/Guardian
Sophomore Eric Rubens and freshman Kazumi Negishi made up the UCSD’s No. 3 doubles duo, the only pair able to top their opponents from Lynn University. Due in part to their subpar doubles play, the Tritons fell 5-3 to the Fighting Knights in the NCAA tournament on May 10.

“We knew it was going to be a close match from the start,” freshman Kazumi Negishi said. “What’s most crushing is that we could have been having the time of our lives playing in finals right now.”

In doubles play, usually the Tritons’ strength, UCSD could not find its game. In the No. 1 spot, Jack Macko and Lorenzo Cava took charge and got Lynn off to a good start with an 8-2 victory over the Tritons’ sophomore Blake Meister and senior Erik Oijala.

“We just got outplayed,” Meister said. “We handed them too many mistakes to pull for the win.”

In the second seat, UCSD senior teammates Steven Oechel and captain Brent Molden were dealt a similar blow, an 8-5 loss to Dennis Reigraf and Julien Carsuzaa, who earned their team-leading 20th doubles victory. Sophomore Eric Rubens and Negishi decided to bite back and pulled off an 8-4 victory over Lynn’s No. 3 duo of Regnier Azevedo and Raphael Koehle.

Down 2-1 after the poor showing in doubles, the Tritons felt the pressure to step it up in their singles matches.

“Everyone was nervous for such a big match, but practice and regionals went so well that we had high expectations for ourselves,” Meister said. “[Lynn] wasn’t as tough as I expected, but they aren’t a team we couldn’t handle. They don’t do anything spectacular; they are just tough and have a bit more confidence.”

Lynn picked up its third point in the opening singles match as Reigraf overtook Meister 6-2, 6-4 in the third spot to improve to 19-2 in singles matches this season.

Down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination, the Tritons managed to tie it up at three apiece thanks to wins from No. 1 Molden, who beat Cava 6-2, 6-4, and No. 6 Ramesh Thondapu’s win over Tom Whittaker. However, Lynn scraped back up to take a lead as Azevedo topped Negishi, 6-4, 6-4.

“At 3-0, things started going bad,” Negishi said. “Then as I hit at match-point, Azevedo called it out and the ref wasn’t watching, but still overruled [it]. It was a disappointing way for me to end the season.”

Up 4-3, with only one more win necessary to eliminate UCSD, the Fighting Knights’ fate lay in the NCAA Southeast Rookie of the Year Carsuzaa, who came in to the match undefeated in singles play. Carsuzaa improved to 18-0 in singles with his three-set battle with Rubens, who pulled off a 6-3 win in the second set, but lost the first and third sets by scores of 6-2 and 6-3, respectively.

As Lynn advanced to the national quarterfinals for their first time since 1997, the Tritons flew home with the harsh realization that their season had come to an end. Some Tritons still found the positives in the tough season-ending loss.

“We did what we came to do … to get to nationals and play our best, and that’s what we did,” Oijala said. “We’ve been waiting for that all year so we didn’t really have anything to lose. The performance was not disappointing, the results were.”