TOC Sectionals 2020
This weekend was certainly one for the books. As our teams prepared the entire year for this weekend, we were all excited yet nervous as for how this weekend would go. Trying to make a Nationals appearance for the fourth year in a row, we were always slightly uneasy as to how the team would fare at sectionals this year because of the amount of our top players graduating last year. There was a huge wave of emotions throughout the entire weekend, but we persevered and kept everyone mentally tough throughout the tournament.
The first day was the pool stage, and our team is always usually seeded first in the pools so we can advance to the gold bracket. However, most of our matches ended up being very close. For a lot of people, this was the first time playing in such a high-stakes competitive environment in quite a while, so the nerves really had our team in its clutches. Kailash Venkatraman and Abhishek Anish, a senior and a freshman who have bonded very well over the year, destroyed the competition with a 6-1 win over CSU Long Beach, while freshman dynamic duo Tiffany Huynh and Serena Ko finished off their match with a 6-3 win. Singles was a grind to watch, but sophomore Michael Wu clutched the set with a 6-5 win. UCSD closed out the match against CSU Long Beach with a mixed doubles win with returning senior Mina Vukovic and graduate student Aaron Yu, who actually came from UCLA club tennis in undergrad and decided to play for us this year! We finished the match against them with a score of 24-19, which is a lot closer than we expected.
Our next match-up was against Cal Poly SLO’s B team, who was still a force to be reckoned with. This was a match in which we were prepared to fight, especially considering some people from their A team from last year moved down to B team. Seniors Sanjeev Sinha and Kailash, who have been playing doubles together since the start of their junior year, were finally able to play together in an official tournament for the first time since last year’s nationals. They gave the crowd a classic match of quality tennis, and they were finally able to show a lot of the team how they play together after almost a year, especially the new members! It was an exhilarating match, with winning 4 sudden death game points and providing the momentum needed to defeat them 6-2. The womens’ doubles featured senior Melissa Tran and Tiffany Huynh, who initially had a difficult time adjusting to playing together. At 2-5, captain Sanjeev Sinha decided to make a tough call and substituted Mina in place of Melissa, leading up to a 4-6 defeat. Despite Mina being tossed in cold, she and Tiffany managed to make the set close, which is all we needed. We obtained solid wins in singles, with freshman Sisi Leong playing after having a tough match against Long Beach but keeping herself in the game by winning 6-4. Michael secured the win while playing smart tennis with a score of 6-3. Our mixed team, Aaron and Mina, closed out the match against them by winning 6-3 as well with a final score of 28-18. The last match was against Cal Poly Pomona’s B team, which was a breeze for our players and it was good for everyone to relax a little bit before the bracket stage tomorrow.
Our very first match was against Cal Poly SLO’s A team this time, which was a little unlucky considering we were the only two schools who had to play seemingly tough opponents. Despite the unlucky seeding, we went out there and everyone did their best to play the best tennis they could for a spot at going to nationals. This year, our section had 5 bids to nationals, so we had to either win the first round or win the next two rounds in order to go. Doubles was very exciting to watch, with Sanjeev and Kailash playing men’s doubles and Mina and Serena playing women’s doubles. Every changeover, the score was tied for both our matches, and both teams knew every game mattered because there was a lot at stake here. Eventually, the men’s doubles secured the win in the tiebreaker by winning 6-5 (5-1 in the tiebreak), but the women’s doubles unfortunately fell through in the tiebreak, leaving us tied going into singles. Their singles players came out a lot better than past years, putting us behind by 9 games going into the mixed doubles. Aaron and Mina won their set 6-4, leaving us 7 games behind into overtime. To have a chance at winning the match against SLO, they would have to win 7 games in a row and win a super-tiebreaker. Unfortunately, they lost the second game in overtime, leading to a 21-28 loss. However, Sanjeev ensured everyone knew we weren’t out of the race for nationals just yet. We still had one more chance to clinch the last spot at nationals, and all he wanted for everyone was to not worry and be prepared for the next match.
Our next match was against CSU Fullerton, who took us to a lot closer match than we expected. Their team had gotten a lot better, and it showed especially in the singles matches. We had an even score going into singles yet again, with the men’s doubles winning 6-0 but Fullerton giving us a 0-6 loss in women’s doubles. Freshman Tiffany Huynh really stepped up her game starting at this point, actually playing one of her childhood friends in a very close match. Michael also had a very tough match, both of our singles players getting pushed to a tiebreak. It was not easy to play singles in these conditions; it was hot, the sun was beating down on everyone, the rallies were very long and top quality, not to mention a lot was on the line at this point in the tournament for both teams. The only way someone won was if they played smarter tennis than the other, and that’s exactly what happened. Michael was initially down 1-3, but brought it back up to 4-4 by playing with the correct strategies and eventually winning the tiebreak like the champion he is. Tiffany also clutched her win in the tiebreak, and she deserved all the rest in the world after her match. Being up by 2 games going into mixed, Aaron and Mina yet again played a solid match and won the set 6-3 for a final score of 24-19.
We learned we were playing UC Irvine for the final spot of nationals, which was going to be a tough match no matter what way we looked at it. Everyone got some rest and proceeded to warm up. At this point, our nerves were solidified and we had enough faith in each other to secure the win for us to go to Florida one more time. Sanjeev and Kailash, despite being injured throughout the tournament, played very smart tennis and solidified the win against two very well known players in the section with a score of 6-4. The girls’ doubles was slightly closer, with Serena and Mina coming in clutch by winning 4 straight points in the tiebreak despite being two points from a loss. Both matches actually ended at the same time, and we started singles with a 3 game lead. Tiffany and Michael played singles just like in the last match, and they played their best tennis they have all year. Michael blew out the competition despite them making a substitution and putting in their star player, getting 6 straight games with no problem at all. He is truly a force to be reckoned with when he’s got his momentum, and everyone watching learned that during that match. Tiffany’s match was a very close and a long one, but we all stayed patient and supported her the entire way through. She initially struggled to play her opponent, who got to every ball and would not miss under any circumstances. However, after being down 1-3 she brought it back to 4-4, playing very patient and efficient tennis, which is easier said than done at this level. She is one of our strongest players, both mentally and physically, and she was definitely a key singles player for the reason why we got to nationals in the first place. Aaron and Mina lost mixed 5-6, but we were still up by 7 games. Aaron and Mina won the third game in overtime, winning by 5 games and making the score 28-23. Mina finished off the match and secured our victory to nationals the same way she did two years ago; a classic drop shot off the return.
Everyone played a part in our road to nationals for the fourth year in a row, and the captains could not be more proud of everyone this weekend. It was one of the best weekends our players have had despite the tough competition, and this tournament will forever be etched in club history. We have no doubts this streak of making nationals will end anytime soon, and we are excited to see the future of this club seeing that there are so many young players. Teams in Southern California should be scared of the potential this young team has for the future, but for now we all celebrate our win and get ready for nationals in Orlando!