Jan. 14, 2004
Most programs are defined by their wins and losses, but George Husack used his first year as head coach of Santa Clara last season to build upon the essentials that had created a solid foundation for Bronco tennis.
Santa Clara men's tennis had grown steadily in past years, gaining regional and national recognition, maintaining a very strong and competitive schedule, implementing an aggressive recruiting campaign and developing players for a one-of-a-kind experience both on and off the courts. Last year's squad faced a challenging task, as unforeseen roster changes and inexperience limited their ability to capitalize on the program's most recent success. The players and coaches, however, learned valuable lessons throughout the course of the season, and as Husack explains, paved the way for even greater accomplishments in the near future.
"We certainly were aware of the challenges and soon discovered we had to equally commit to giving it our all every single day," he commented. "There was a lot of mutual respect for one another, and as a result, we formed a very strong bond that delivered many positive results throughout the season. A graduating senior summed things up pretty nicely at our team banquet when he said that it was the best year no matter what our record. I don't think he was the only one holding his chin up high as we had the unique opportunity to experience everything together."
Looking ahead to the 2004 season, the Broncos have added experience, depth and talent in four newcomers and six returning players. Husack said he is looking to harness those qualities with the team's passion and desire to go beyond the success the program has ever achieved.
"We have a solid mix of players who believe they can accomplish a lot this season," he added. "They have put a script together in their minds and are determined to reach their goals. It's an exciting time and we're ready to get things rolling."
The keys to the program's success have centered on a few basic and important principles. Commitment, the first standard, carried over from the previous year and is clearly evident among the incoming class. Kevin McQuaid and Bobby Rasmussen, a pair of freshmen, visited Santa Clara following their signings to attend matches, support the team and get to know their future teammates. Additionally, transfers Gernot Fischer and Eric Kochanski arrived in mid-summer to become acquainted with the coaching staff, local returning players, the university and surrounding community.
"Right away, our newest Broncos declared their commitment to the team," Husack said. "It sent a strong message to the returners about the direction we were going, as well as created a lot of excitement before school even began."
The second factor, challenge, defined the fall season as the Broncos competed in four consecutive tournaments soon after arriving on campus and worked hard on developing their games in practice and competition. Their efforts did not go unnoticed as several players garnered noteworthy results. Fischer and McQuaid captured singles titles in their first events representing Santa Clara, while Rasmussen joined McQuaid for similar honors in doubles. At the ITA Regional in Eugene, Ore., Fischer and Kochanski became the first Bronco tandem to advance to a regional championship, and as a result, were honored with a solid preseason ranking released in January.
"The guys were put to the test immediately and responded well," Husack commented. "They did a good job staying focused on improving and learning what was needed for the season ahead."
The final element for the Broncos, the ability to compete, involved setting aside the focus on wins, losses and rankings, while sticking to the day-to-day basics. Extensive individual workouts supplemented the regular practice regimen, where the coaching staff worked on specific individual needs, in addition to getting the players to attack more often and establishing a high level of positive energy throughout the fall.
"We take pride in pushing each other in practice and being the most vocal and supportive team in competition," Husack explained. "This has created an intensity and standard that we want to maintain throughout the year while allowing the results to speak for themselves."
A look at 2004 Santa Clara Broncos:
"I think Erich pressed a bit at first to show the team he deserved the top spot, "Husack said. "Once he settled in, however, his competitiveness and work ethic spoke volumes."
The 6'3" senior took the fall term off to concentrate on academics and a little rest, as he prepares to lead the Broncos in his final season and begin his quest to attend graduate school in computer engineering. He spent noticeable time in the gym adding strength and muscle to his frame, as well as remained involved with the program by attending practices, tournaments and team functions. His dedication led to a selection by his peers to once again serve as a captain.
"Erich's physical presence may not have been consistently seen on the courts during the fall, though his commitment to the program and his teammates never disappeared. He's ready to help lead us this year and we're all very happy to have him back."
A three-time All-Ohio Valley Conference honoree and 2003 OVC Player of the Year, Fischer transferred to Santa Clara from Tennessee Tech, where, for three seasons, he played No. 1 singles and doubles for the Golden Eagles and led them to a conference title and NCAA Tournament berth last spring. He posted 60 singles victories during his tenure in Cookeville and peaked in the ITA national ranking at No. 91.
"Gernot has been a great addition to our program both as a talented competitor and humorously supportive teammate," Husack commented. "He brings top-level experience, having faced some of the best players in the country while at Tech."
One of the top juniors in his native Germany, Fischer posted a solid 11-3 record during the fall tournament season.
Ruso, a first-year graduate student in Santa Clara's Leavey School of Business with one more year of eligibility, has been a leader and mentor to everyone from the moment he arrived at Santa Clara. For a fourth consecutive season, he was selected as captain and is described by Husack as "the truest Bronco I know." A troublesome elbow injury prevented Ruso from competing in the fall , but his spirit and leadership played a big part in helping the players get acclimated to their new-look squad and preparing them for the season.
"Rick has first-hand experience in witnessing the growth of Bronco Tennis," Husack reflected. "Since he first set foot on campus, he has taken it upon himself to help raise the level of standard, as well as support and remind his teammates of the qualities needed to build a solid program for years to come."
Bedilion moved up from his No. 6 singles position as a freshman and split time between Nos. 3 and 4 last year. He led the Broncos with 21 singles victories, the fifth-best win total in the program record books and was named the team's Mad Dog of the Year, given to the player that comes through in the clutch when his team needs it most. An All-WCC singles honoree, Bedilion learned to take more chances with his attacking game and was rewarded for his efforts. His dedication earned him a spot in the prestigious ITA All-American Championships last October where he had the opportunity to compete against some of the top players in college tennis.
Hidalgo is described as the team's most improved player. Since earning a spot as a walk-on three seasons ago, he has spent countless hours on the courts and in the gym. He has reviewed plenty of video with the coaching staff, been a huge vocal and inspirational supporter of his teammates and made a strong statement to be right in the thick of things for a second consecutive season.
Hidalgo's hard work paid dividends for the Broncos last spring and this fall, where he recorded a 9-5 singles record in tournament play.
"Benny loves to use his forehand to set up points in his favor," Husack added. "He has worked hard to learn other ways to impose his game and this knowledge has given him a newfound confidence."
Hidalgo's dedication was also present in the classroom. He earned an undergraduate degree in finance last June, after only three years at Santa Clara, and began his pursuit of a graduate degree in business last September.
The second of two transfers joining the Bronco squad this season, Kochanski spent his last two seasons at West Virginia, playing No. 1 singles and doubles for the Mountaineers. The tennis program in Morgantown dissolved in the summer, forcing Kochanski to find a new home.
"I contacted his coach last spring after hearing about their program," Husack said. "He told me about a very committed player that would be a tremendous addition to any team. It didn't take me long to figure out that we were very fortunate to have Eric on the West Coast."
Kochanski added twenty-five pounds of muscle over the past two years, has thrived on working out hard on a daily basis and seen his game take shape in a relatively short amount of time. Following a full season of experience at the top spot, Husack sees Kochanski making an immediate impact.
"Eric is one tough son-of-a-gun," Husack commented. "He refuses to stop pushing himself and certainly has enjoyed playing in the California sunshine. Don't let his smile fool you though, as once he steps foot on the court, it's game time."
The final junior, Zepponi, arrived as a freshman on the Mission Campus with a splash. He shattered the record for most singles victories in a season by reaching the 30-win plateau and immediately gained the respect of his coaches and peers. His physical and mental maturity continued last year when asked to move up three spots to the No. 2 singles position.
"Francisco welcomed the challenge and certainly learned a lot from the experience," Husack said. "He has a tremendous amount of integrity which has had a lasting effect on this program. He's been a fighter, mentor and leader to us all."
Zepponi battled through the fall season and has returned after the winter break with "lots of fire", according to his coach.
"Francisco will continue to lead by example and that quality can never be taken away from him."
Ted Blosser, the Bronco's lone sophomore, gained valuable experience last season after earning a roster spot as a walk-on. He was a unanimous selection for the Roy T. Zepponi Rookie of the Year Award for his dedication, hard work and uncanny sense of humor.
"Ted is a solid individual," Husack commented. "Last season, he took advantage of every opportunity to improve and learn more about competing at the college level."
An electrical engineering major, Blosser spent the summer and fall bulking up in the weight room while spending extra time on the courts between his demanding academic schedule.
"Ted's enthusiasm has had a tremendous impact on the team. I see him furthering his development this year, as well as continuing to make us laugh at his amusing stories."
"I have a picture of Bobby and Kevin in my office from their 12s zonal team. What a duo." Husack said. "Now they're both here and living three doors away from each other. Amazing."
McQuaid kicked off his Bronco career in fine fashion capturing a singles and doubles title in the inaugural tournament of the fall season. His amazing competitive spirit and impressive knowledge of the game will make him an instant contributor according to his coach.
"I first heard Kevin before I actually saw him play," Husack described. "He battled throughout his match with fist pumps, unbelievable physical exertion and a dash of cockiness too. He is the second coming of the Mad Dog (nickname of former Bronco Scott Watters), as his intensity is contagious and positive attitude has affected the whole team."
McQuaid also boasts solid national tournament experience, having defeated some of the best junior players in the country. He was ranked as high as No. 17 and No. 91 in the USTA Boys 16s and 18s national standings.
A two-time state champion and one of the top players from the Intermountain section, Rasmussen provides a physical presence for the Broncos with powerful groundstrokes and a strong service game. The Colorado native devoted the majority of his time in the fall to adding key elements to his arsenal.
"Bobby learned the transition game and how to finish points at the net," Husack commented. "We recorded a lot of his match play to analyze the effects of his hard work. He discovered his enhanced movement and aggressiveness put a tremendous amount of pressure on his opponents and markedly improved since we started in September. He'll continue to learn from experience and make huge strides in the development of his game."
Husack said the lineups for singles and doubles have not been set, but indicated that everybody has high expectations for themselves.
"We possess solid experience in having three No. 1 players from a year ago and unquestionable depth and talent to produce a very strong lineup. I look forward to seeing the season unfold and how we prepare for our biggest event of the year-the West Coast Conference Championships."
The Broncos face a demanding schedule as the program annually plans tough competition in order to position itself for a postseason tournament berth. Santa Clara will encounter at least 17 nationally ranked foes in its 25 dual matches. A sample of these opponents include Pac-10 teams Washington, Oregon and Arizona State, a home-and-home match-up with powerful Fresno State, and a trio of contests against conference champions UC Santa Barbara of the Big West, Boise State of the WAC and perennial WCC powerhouse Pepperdine. The season culminates April 23-25 as the Broncos host the WCC Championships at the SCU Tennis Center.
Goals were set at the team's preseason retreat in Lake Tahoe, but unlike last season, no specifics were put out on the table.
"We all are aware of the potential we have and recognize that our success will depend upon our ability to maintain our commitment, challenge one another and compete on a consistent basis," Husack explained. "The anxiety of the season will be channeled by our preparation in practice while the excitement of the unknown will motivate us in competition. As Santa Clara University has its three C's in competence, conscience and compassion, we have ours. Let's get it on."