Jan. 19, 2006
By Jason Cohen
The Santa Clara
The spring season for the Santa Clara men's tennis team opened in strong fashion on Monday with a young Bronco squad posting two convincing victories over UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis.
After working out early-season jitters in the morning with a 4-3 victory over the Banana Slugs, Santa Clara cruised past the Aggies with a 5-0 victory later in the afternoon.
For Santa Clara, the burning question all offseason was whether or not head coach George Husack would be able to get his young team to play at the competitive level that was set by last year's graduating seniors Francisco Zepponi, Taylor Bedilion, Ben Hidalgo and Eric Kochanski.
Zepponi and Bedilion finished their Bronco careers ranked No. 1 and No. 3 all time in career singles wins with 75 and 67, respectively. If Monday is any indication of the coming season, then Husack should feel comfortable that the young team has stepped up to the challenge of filling their predecessors' shoes.
"We have a really young team," Husack said "We replaced those four seniors with four freshmen that are very talented."
Freshman Brian Brogan is off to a blazing start. Playing at No. 6 this weekend, he dropped his first singles opponent in straight sets en route to posting two singles and two doubles victories on the first day of his collegiate career.
The depth of talent that Santa Clara has between its top and bottom ranked players is an advantage that Husack believes will help his team pull out victories over more experienced squads.
With Santa Clara starting just two juniors along with four sophomores, the team is going to need strong leadership from their upperclassmen at the No. 1, 2 and 3 positions.
One player that could be a key contributor for Santa Clara will be redshirt sophomore Kevin McQuaid. Although McQuaid sat out last season due to a knee injury, he has shown promising talent after racking up 18 wins his freshman year, rotating between the No. 3 and No. 6 spots.
McQuaid will be sharing the leadership role with juniors Bobby Rasmussen and Jan Macek who played together at the No. 1 doubles spot this past Monday. After struggling early and losing their matches against Santa Cruz, Rasmussen and Macek pulled out a tough 8-6 doubles victory over UC Davis' No. 1 team.
"Everyone was really anxious to get the season started," Husack said. "To get those two matches under our belts was really good."
Picking up wins early in the season benefits the Broncos as they will face a tough, competitive WCC field led by Pepperdine, who has one of the top ten tennis programs in the country.
Husack says the team has also developed "a good rivalry" with the University of San Diego, which is led by South African sophomore sensation Thomas Liversage.
There is also another element which Husack hopes will play a large factor in helping Santa Clara win its home matches -- the Hecklers on the Hill.
The Hecklers were created specifically by Husack to bring energy to home matches while giving students an extra incentive to support their team. For just five dollars, students receive a Hecklers t-shirt and free food at post-game barbeques.
The Hecklers membership is good for both men's and women's matches and is available through both teams' coaches.
Santa Clara women's tennis is looking to strike back with a vengeance this season. Head coach Damon Coupe took an unranked 12-12 team to a 16-7 record in his first season as women's coach. This was the best record for the women's team since 1997, yet Coupe is not satisfied.
"Last season was just scratching the surface of where we need to be. I've done a 180 with this program and I've been really working with the girls at being more aggressive on the court," Coupe said.
This year, Coupe has set forth two big goals for his team: to finish nationally ranked and in the top two of the WCC.
Like their male counterparts, the women's team is also relatively young this year with no seniors. Coupe will be depending heavily on four juniors to pick up where last year's three departed seniors left off.
Playing at the No. 1 spot, junior Kelly Leathers needs to set a strong example. In just two years, Leathers has amassed 39 victories, leaving her one win shy of entering the top 10 all-time wins list at Santa Clara, and was named team MVP her sophomore year.
Another potentially strong contributor this season will be junior Erika Barnes, the team's most improved player last season who finished undefeated in conference play with doubles partner Catherine Cochrane.
With such a young squad, Coupe is pushing for all the players on his team to put forth a strong effort whenever they step on the court.
"Competitiveness is the one area I stress to the team every day and that's our biggest attribute," Coupe said. "Everyone on the team is held accountable by their teammates to go out there and get the job done."
Coupe says he's excited about this year's recruits because he has tried to sign the most competitive and aggressive players available. With a gritty "we can take anybody type of attitude," Coupe believes his team will be able to outplay higher-ranked opponents and win with dedication and desire.
"The whole team has really stepped up their game this fall. I'm expecting great things from everyone -- even the freshmen are expected to come in and make an impact," Coupe said.
Coupe's team will open their season hosting rival Cal Poly Sunday, Jan. 22, in a rematch from last season in which Santa Clara upset the No. 56-ranked squad at the Degheri Tennis Center.