By Samantha Thompson
This past Sunday, the No.1-ranked UC Santa Cruz men’s tennis team defeated the No.2-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) for the third time this season to guarantee the top spot in the elite eight of the NCAA national championship tournament.
Despite Sunday’s blistering heat, fans came out of the shade and gathered around Court Two at East Field House to watch UCSC sophomore Jared Kamel and senior Will Ellison of CMS battle it out in one of the longest tiebreakers in collegiate history.
With the match on Court One in its deciding third set and Court Three’s match having already come and gone, Kamel and Ellison were at a standstill at 17-17 in their first set tiebreaker. Kamel walked over to the back fence where he latched on for just a moment to catch his breath before starting up play again. After multiple set points on both sides of the net, Kamel finally took the set 7-6 (19-17).
“It was all a blur,” Kamel said. “I really didn’t have any time to focus. I just played every point for what it was worth and thank God it came out in my favor.”
Spectators, players, and coaches alike were impressed with the stellar effort that came out of both players in the tiebreaker.
“I’ve watched a lot of college tennis matches and I’ve never seen a tiebreaker go that far,” head coach Bob Hansen said. “It was a real compelling match.”
After capturing that first set, the Slugs breathed a small sigh of relief.
“When you’re at that point in the match, every set you put in the bank puts more and more pressure on the other team,” Hansen said. “What you’re trying to do is keep adding momentum and building it, so him winning that set was key.”
After battling through the excruciating tiebreaker, the players on Court Two as well as a few other singles matches did not even have a chance to complete their matches as the Slugs captured the victory over CMS 5-1, leaving all other matches incomplete.
The doubles matches, which were played earlier in the day, put the Slugs up 2-1 against CMS. Singles victories came from No.5 player Max Ortiz over Gui Schils 6-1, 6-2, No.3 player Bryan Pybas defeated Mikey Lim 6-2, 6-4, and the clinching win came from No.6 Colin Mark-Griffin, who took the match in a tiebreaker 6-1, 7-6 (7-5).
“No.1 doubles was able to close it out, and right then we knew the momentum was on our side,” assistant coach Bryce Parmelly said. “And our singles players all got on their guys early and just sat on them.”
With the conclusion of the match, the coaches only had good things to say about the effort their players laid out on the court.
“This felt more like the finals of the national tournament than a regional playoff,” Hansen said. “We’re ranked No.1 and they’re ranked No.2, and that’s a tall order to beat a team that good three times in one season.”
With the Slugs heading to the national tournament, which will be held on May 18-20 in St. Louis, MO, they have the potential to win their sixth national championship title since 1989. They’re feeling confident going in as the No.1 seed, but aren’t getting too ahead of themselves.
“We’ve been the No.1 seed since we won the national indoor tournament early in the season, so we’re kind of getting used to it,” Hansen said. “They have every right to be confident, but at this stage in the game you still have to win matches against quality opponents at every turn.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” Hansen continued. “That’s for sure.”