Santa Clara's men's tennis team, ranked No. 53 in the most recent ITA poll, hits the road once again in West Coast Conference action early next week, playing at LMU on Mon., March 24 at 12 pm and then at No. 42 Pepperdine on Tues., March 25 at 2 pm. The Broncos return home to host Willamette on Fri., March 28 at 12 pm on the Mission campus.
Santa Clara, 10-2, notched its 10th win of the season with a 4-3 victory over New Mexico State on March 16. It was their ninth win in 10 matches. The team is 7-1 at home, 2-1 on the road and 1-0 on neutral courts. Santa Clara is 3-1 against ranked opponents.
Because final exams for the winter quarter are this week, practice has been pretty minimal according to Bronco head coach Derek Mills. "We do some individual work during finals week, but even that is really limited," Mills said. When asked if it is hard stopping play for a week for finals, Mills said no. "We are used to it because we are on the quarter system. They are tired from studying so hard so we have to do the best we can."
While working to maintain their fitness with some individual workouts, the Broncos will get back out on the court together as a team Friday for a full practice. They are expected to practice through the weekend before flying down to Southern California on Sunday.
Mills laughed when asked if it was a spring break-type of trip to SOCAL. "This will be a business trip period. We will go to dinner, but the fun part of this trip is winning matches and that is what we are focused on."
Mills knows LMU and Pepperdine are both tough matchups on their home courts. "We have had tough matches with LMU the last couple of years, with them being won 4-3. They will be tough to play," Mills said. "Pepperdine is always very difficult to play no matter where you play them. We are going to have to be ready to play."
The Broncos are 2-0 in the WCC with road wins at Gonzaga and at USF already under their belt. Opening with four straight WCC matches on the road doesn't bother the Broncos. "It is just like another away match. We prefer to play at home, but it's fine," Mills said.
Individually, No. 2 singles player Ilya Osintsev was named the WCC Singles Player of the Week for the second time this season on March 19. It was also the third time in four weeks that Santa Clara has earned a Player of the Week honor. Mills said a chat they had with the Novosibirsk, Russia native after the first quarter might be part of the reason for his fine play as he has not lost a dual match this season. The junior is a perfect 9-0, all in the No. 2 singles spot. Including the fall season, he is 13-2 overall.
"There is no difference with Ilya's play this year – he is just playing to his potential," Mills said. "We set out some expectations so he could reach this level. He has met all those expectations and is a real positive for us right now. We knew he could get here, but maybe I needed to do a better job of pointing him in the right direction. He is playing really good tennis right now."
Mills knows Osintsev's fine play has helped him with his doubles partner, John Lamble. The pair has a spotless 10-0 record in dual matches and has won 15 consecutive dual matches dating back to last season. With their most recent win over New Mexico State, they notched their 32nd career victory, moving them into second place for most victories by one tandem in Santa Clara history. They were named WCC Doubles Team of the Week on March 4.
With Santa Clara's home courts set up with No. 1, 2 and 3 playing side-by-side, Osintsev's play has helped fuel courts 1 and 3. "The team has a confidence that Ilya is probably going to get his point. They know they can almost count on his point right now," Mills said.
Mills also praised the play of No. 4 Mikheil Khmiadashvilli, No. 3 Ashot Khacharyan and No. 1 Lamble. "They have been playing extremely well," Mills said. "We are looking for the end of the line-up, No. 5 and 6, to get back to winning and we are confident they can. And if they can, we feel pretty good about the second half of the season."
The team will work hard on doubles play over the weekend after losing the doubles points the last couple of matches. "We have hit a bit of a block in doubles," Mills added. "This weekend we will work on the common communication things, movement and working together as teams to get better. We have gotten away from it a bit."
Looking down the road, the team will fly back from LA late on Tuesday, take Wednesday off and start practicing hard on Thursday in anticipation for the Willamette match on Friday. After Friday's match, they will try to take a couple days off on the weekend.
"By next Friday evening, we will have gotten through finals week, then two really difficult matches early in the week and a late week match as well. It's important to give our guys some time off during the weekend so we are fresh during the final half of the season," Mills said.
Follow SCU Tennis On Social Media Check back on SantaClaraBroncos.com for more on this Sunday's action as the Broncos look to win their 10th match. Stay up to date with Santa Clara men's tennis on Facebook and Twitter @SCUmtennis. Go Broncos!