UCSD Struggles to Replace Top Players

    MEN’S TENNIS — The Tritons started action this year at the Wilson/ITA Small College Regional Championships, an individual singles and doubles tournament that guarantees the winners a spot at the prestigious ITA National Championships. The tournament, hosted by Cal Poly Pomona, took place on Oct. 2 and Oct. 3. The Tritons are in the midst of replacing veterans Eric Rubens and Blake Meister, who won the doubles title last year and earned a spot at the National Championships.

    Coach Eric Steidlmayer was quick to admit that it will be tough to replace those two, but said he feels the Tritons still have plenty of firepower left to compete in California Collegiate Athletic Association play.

    “With Blake and Eric gone, we lost two very good players,” Steidlmayer said. “They meant so much to the program and will be missed. However, we have some young, eager players that want to lead the team and will do a good job with that.”

    Steidlmayer had five Tritons play in the singles draw. Junior Vincent Nguyen will play a larger role this season as he fills in for the departed stars at the top of the ladder. His 2008-09 season debuted with a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Andrew Khuri-Yakub of Sonoma State. The match was closely contested throughout, with Khuri-Yakub earning only a single break of serve in each set to advance on to the next round. Nguyen went 11-8 in singles play last season, mostly at the No. 6 position where he went 8-5.

    Junior Brandon Stevenson had better luck in his first match of the season, defeating Jonathan Przybyl of Grand Canyon 6-4, 6-1. Stevenson’s aggressive play slowly wore down his opponent, especially in the second set where his game was working on all cylinders. Stevenson was a redshirt last year, but had the opportunity to practice with the team and has developed a great game from the baseline.

    “[Stevenson’s] got a strong desire to improve and has worked hard at it,” Steidlmayer said. “His forehand has really developed over the summer, and could become a big weapon.”

    Sophomore Naveen Dixit also made his debut as a Triton, losing to James Lee of Cal Poly Pomona 6-3, 6-2. Like Stevenson, Dixit was also a redshirt last year, but as a sophomore is certain to have a large impact on how UCSD performs over the course of the year.

    “[Dixit’s] glaring weakness is experience,” Steidlmayer said. “[But] his consistency from behind the baseline allows him to attack with his forehand, and will allow him to succeed in pressure filled situations.”

    Sophomore Erik Elliott and senior Kazumi Negishi earned first-round byes in the tournament. They started play on the second day, and each won a match before falling in the next round. Elliott appeared in only two matches last season, but looked sharp in dispatching Luke Salazar of Western New Mexico 6-2, 6-2 in his first match. In his next match, Elliott got off to another strong start, but couldn’t sustain his level, falling 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 to Joshua Lau of Cal Poly Pomona. In Negishi’s first match, the senior defeated Quan Vu of Sonoma State with a solid 6-4, 6-4 win. The next round provided a much stiffer opponent in Connor Olsen, also of Sonoma State. But Negishi couldn’t get his game together in that contest, losing 6-2, 6-2.

    For doubles play, Steidlmayer put together two teams, one that had experience and the other a new pairing. One doubles team featured Nguyen and Dixit, who teamed to go 1-1 for the tournament. In their first match, the duo defeated Jeremy Heckley and Khuri-Yakub of Sonoma State, but lost in the next round to a doubles team from Cal Poly Pomona, 8-5. Steidlmayer’s other doubles pairing consisted of Stevenson and Negishi, who had a solid showing. In their first match, the pair beat Lynch and Salazar of Western New Mexico 8-4. Their run continued with another 8-4 win over a Western New Mexico team, Timosi Fa and Chris Toli. However, their dreams of earning a trip to nationals ended when they fell in the semifinals to the top-seeded team of Rong Ma and Agnel Peter of BYU-Hawaii 8-0.

    With no one advancing to the ITA National Championships in Alabama, the Tritons can now turn their attention toward their first team match on Oct.17 when they host Cerritos College. That match will precede the annual Alumni Tournament, a lighthearted event featuring former players on Oct.18 at North Courts.

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