While the UC Santa Cruz men’s tennis team fell to Claremont Mudd-Scripps University in the third round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Team Championships to end their strong season, for some the season is not over.
Thanks to a brilliant season, Brian Pybas qualified for the Individuals Championship and Marc Vartabedian is hoping for a spot in the 32-man tournament, but is currently listed as an alternate. Along with their singles endeavors, the two top UCSC players will team up to compete in the Doubles Championship during the Memorial Day weekend at Oberlin College in Ohio.
With their regular season behind them, Pybas and Vartabedian are focusing on the upcoming competition, using this year’s experience to help strengthen and fine-tune their game.
Pybas, a junior this year who is widely considered UCSC’s deadliest weapon, returned to the starting lineup after taking his sophomore season off. He heads into Ohio as the top seed from the West after defeating the previously top two ranked players at Regionals in Claremont.
“I was just excited to come back and join the team, as I took time off last year missing out on a national championship year,” Pybas said. “However, when I came back I realized I would be near the top of the rankings competing for a national championship.”
Even though Pybas looks like the top contender in the Individual Singles Championships, he endured hard work and a tough season to earn his spot at Nationals, and also found a new perspective on his own play.
“My feelings altered slightly throughout the season, as I had a couple of bad losses leading me to work harder and set me up in the position I am now,” Pybas said. “There were definitely highs and lows, but overall it has given me a new approach and drive to compete at the level I expect myself to.”
His draw in the tournament yields opponents with power and champion potential, but Pybas is confident in his own talent to beat them out.
“It will be a tough road to win but definitely possible,” Pybas said. “There are a bunch of good players, but as I’ve grown through the year to this point I feel as though I can play with anyone and it is just a matter of showing up on that day to play.”
Last year’s national champions, Santa Cruz had nearly all their starters graduate and retained only one — Vartabedian. As the only member returning from last year’s high-caliber team, he jumped from sixth singles to second and is now one-half of Santa Cruz’s high-powered doubles team poised to win it all in Ohio.
“I have incredibly high expectations every year, but we did graduate five of our top six last year,” Head Coach Bob Hansen said. “As the season progressed I gained more confidence, but I knew [Marc and Brian] were going to be a special doubles team. I’m expecting them to have a shot in the whole thing. We’ve won more doubles championships than any other team.”
As Pybas and Vartabedian head to the Midwest, Hansen reflected on the pair’s performance this year.
“During the fall regional tournament, they lost a couple of matches that I did not expect them to lose in nationals, but beat that team in the regular season,” Hansen said. “They swept indoor nationals, had one kind of bad loss during the season. Cal Lutheran beat them later on during the regular season.”
This year has proven to be tough, but even the losses have been rectified by revenge wins evident in their season record.
“The only teams we have lost to across the country, we have returned to beat later in season, so I am extremely optimistic about our chances,” Pybas said.
The dangerous duo is in real contention for the doubles title, something that was noticeable even at the start of the year. There has been no doubt in Hansen’s eyes of the two’s dominance on the court, due greatly to the experience that both Pybas and Vartabedian bring.
“They were leaders from the very beginning,” Hansen said. “They’re very different leaders, different kind of people, but together their leadership was huge, and I’m very proud of their accomplishments.”
“Coming into the season I knew Brian and I had lots of weapons and held a lot of potential to make a great team,” Vartabedian said. “My goals were to really lead the younger guys and put a doubles point on the board for our team. Another big goal was to evolve our doubles style into an aggressive and dominant force, not relying on the play of our opponents.”
Now as they head into the last stage of the season, the Pybas and Vartabedian onslaught is more unrelenting than ever.
“We need to stay focused and take the tournament one point at a time, playing our style of strong aggressive doubles,” Vartabedian said. “We’ve played in a lot of close matches together and put in a lot of practice, now it’s about bringing an individual doubles trophy home for the Slugs.”