The newly crowned Big West Champion Gauchos took a last-minute offer to play UC Berkeley yesterday, hoping to improve on their seeding for the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, the #38 ranked Golden Bears proved too much to handle, mauling the Gauchos in a 5-2 victory. Despite a strong opening to the doubles matches, Head Coach Marty Davis was less than impressed with how his team closed them out.
“I was pretty disappointed,” Davis said. “I thought we played really well right up until the end of those matches. Missed some overheads, and had some double fault. What was disappointing was that we didn’t really make them win it, we sort of just handed it to them.”
Davis is coming off of his fourth-straight Big West Coach of the Year award and sixth overall. Despite the loss today, the award remains a reminder of his team’s solid performance in the conference tournament.
“This has been my most gratifying season as a coach,” Davis said. “We were big underdogs and for this group to win the championship was one heck of an effort, so I was especially proud of that.”
Davis was not the only Gaucho to take home a trophy. Sophomore Alex Konigsfeldt, juniors Josh Finkelstein and Scott Hohenstein, and senior Max Taylor also took home awards. The doubles dream team duo of Finkelstein and Konigsfeldt could not find the magic today, however, losing 8-6.
“One of the guys that we played is a friend of mine, so I knew we were going to have a tough match,” Finkelstein said. “He’s always on top of the net, cutting everything off, and he made it tough for us today.”
Finkelstein was able to rectify his doubles game with a brilliant showing at #2 singles, though, winning one of only two matches the home team took all day. After only playing doubles last year, he has improved all the way to winning his first Big West First Team honors, something he is proud of.
“[Winning the award] was definitely a great honor, and I’m so grateful that I won for singles and doubles,” Finkelstein said. “It’s one of my biggest accomplishments, considering that last year I wasn’t recognized for singles at all. I’ve improved so much over the entire season. I remember I was playing at #7, and now I’m getting really good at #2 and #3 singles, so I’ve definitely improved a lot.”
When asked if the match today would bring the team back down from their high after winning the Big West, he did not seem too affected.
“I don’t think it really matters at all,” Finkelstein said. “As far as my personal confidence too, I had a really good win today, so I was really pleased with it.”
On the conference first team for doubles and singles — along with Finkelstein — is Alex Konigsfeldt, who won the prestigious Big West Player of the Year after garnering a 9-8 season record after replacing team ace Philip Therp, who went down early with an injury. Today, he lost in two sets to Cal’s Pedro Zerbini, who was too strong.
“He just did everything a little bit better than Alex today,” Davis said. “And Alex just got really frustrated, I think.”
Despite the loss, Davis was happy that the team could get some match-level play in before the NCAA tournament against a quality, nationally-ranked opponent.
“Playing is always better practice than practicing,” Davis said. “It’s unusual that you get a chance to play a match in between [the end of the season and the NCAA tournament]. This was really good for us to play some good tennis in a competitive environment. You can’t really get that same energy in practice, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to play Cal.”
Focus now turns to the NCAA tournament for the Gauchos. The team finds out their official seeding on Tuesday, when they will then begin practice to continue their Big West success on the national stage, and put a tough loss against a good team behind them.