Jan. 18, 2005
This year's Santa Clara University men's tennis team combines strong veteran leadership with a talented group of underclassmen, all of whom have a chance to make Bronco history by advancing to the program's first-ever NCAA Championship.
A team retreat to Lake Tahoe kicked off the Broncos' current campaign. The senior class led workshops, returning players shared college tennis experiences and the squad identified the program's core values: respect, loyalty, commitment to excellence, competing with passion and upholding Bronco tennis traditions.
"The Tahoe trip has always been one of the team's favorite excursions," head coach George Husack said, as he enters his third year as this program's leader. "The seniors took it upon themselves to instill a `Bronco Tennis 101' theme throughout the trip, which provided the newcomers with specifics relating to our program and an emphasis on the responsibility we all have throughout the year."
A quartet of seniors will lead the squad this spring, and all boast solid credentials on and off the court. All-West Coast Conference singles honoree Taylor Bedilion and Francisco Zepponi have recorded double-digit victories the previous three seasons and find themselves within striking distance of the top singles record. Zepponi enters the season tied for fourth place on the all-time list, only 12 wins shy of besting the current mark, established just last spring by current assistant coach Erich Chen. Right on Zepponi's heels is Bedilion, who is tied for seventh place all time, 16 victories short of the top mark. Both made strong impacts as underclassmen--as Zepponi set a single-season victory mark with 30 wins as a freshman, and Bedilion followed into the top 10 with 21 wins as a sophomore--and both have climbed up the line up and will contend for the top spot in their final year of eligibility. Ben Hidalgo and Eric Kochanski round out the senior class. Hidalgo is described by Husack as one of the most passionate competitors in the program and will play a pivotal role in doubles. This past fall he reached the doubles final of Pacific's Tiger Fall Classic and a week later captured a title at the Santa Clara Bronco Classic. Kochanski is detailed as big, strong athlete who will play a key role in both singles and doubles. The Pennsylvania native quickly made his mark in the Bronco record books when he and 2004 graduate Gernot Fischer recorded the highest regional (ninth) and national (49th) doubles rankings during their first quarter on the mission campus.
"This group will lead our team in on-court competition, strength and conditioning, academics and mentoring our younger players," Husack explained. "Each individual's personality is unique and complements one another. We are fortunate to have such a strong group of seniors, as they each know what it means to represent our program and university."
Two sophomores and five newcomers complete the team. The charismatic Kevin McQuaid, and last season's Most Improved Bronco, Bobby Rasmussen, will combine with Jan Macek, Tyler Wilson, A.J. Kerin, Blane Shields and Chris Iwamura to provide added strength and depth to the Bronco line up. As freshmen last season, McQuaid captured singles and doubles titles at the Pacific Tiger Fall Classic in his collegiate debut, recorded 18 singles victories and moved up from the No. 6 singles position to as high as the No. 3 slot during the spring. Rasmussen solidified his spot in the starting line up last season after posting a 9-1 singles record with impressive victories over No. 20 Arizona State and No. 33 San Diego State.
The duo's early collegiate success provides much inspiration for the group of newcomers, which includes a sophomore transfer and four freshmen. Macek, an attacking ball striker from Freising, Germany, transferred from Southern Mississippi University and will find himself toward the top of the line up. Wilson, of Medford, Oregon, was ranked tops in the Pacific Northwest section and held a solid national ranking in the Boys 18s listing. Kerin and Shields are Bay Area products. Kerin is an All-American from nearby Saratoga, where he tallied 100 singles victories, led his prep team to the Central Coast Section Championships and has held a high national ranking throughout his tennis career. Novato native Shields is a talented multi-sport athlete, and was one of the top competitors in the NorCal tennis section and voted San Marin High School's team MVP three times. Iwamura comes from the powerful prep program of Punahou High School in Honolulu, where he was a part of four state team championships while winning the state's doubles title on three occasions.
"It was critical for us to bring in a strong group of eager student-athletes this fall," Husack described. "They joined a solid pair of sophomores, who together, will continue to improve and learn what it takes to successfully compete at a high level of intercollegiate tennis and ultimately fill the shoes of the senior class."
"Time flew by as usual during the fall quarter with team practice, individual workouts, tournament competition, recruiting visits and studies. The guys learned a lot about time management, and I believe as a team, we improved tremendously in many key areas, including point play, stroke development and strength and conditioning. We were a little banged up toward the end of the academic quarter; however, a well-deserved rest during the winter break has prepared us well for the season ahead."
The spring schedule is once again challenging, and pits the Broncos against many strong programs, including 10 who received preseason national rankings. Key matches will include Pacific-10 Conference powers Stanford (No. 7), California (No. 28) and Oregon (No. 49), as well as Rice (No. 16) and Fresno State (No. 56) from the Western Athletic Conference. Defeating regional foes such as New Mexico (No. 65), UC Santa Barbara (No. 67), UC Irvine (No. 73), and West Coast Conference rivals Pepperdine (No. 27) and San Diego (No. 45), will help the Broncos prepare for postseason play, beginning with the league championship in April.
"Our annual goal is to face as many nationally-ranked programs as possible," Husack said. "Whether we play them at home or on the road, it's important to challenge ourselves so we improve as a team and put ourselves in a position to make the NCAA tournament."
Making the NCAA Championships in May would mark a first for the Bronco program, something not lost on each team member. It will be the seniors who will lead this squad and the youth movement who will keep the engines burning. This strong combination of experience, depth and eagerness to improve will equate to a successful campaign on the courts.
"I really like our group; we have a lot of guys that can step in and play ball," Husack concluded. "Depth is a great asset to have and we'll continue to develop our players throughout the year. I think we will surprise a lot of our opponents with our ability to compete consistently as a team and that's going to be the key. This should be a fun season and I'm looking forward to what the future has in store for us."