By Samantha Thompson
The UC Santa Cruz men’s tennis team, perhaps the most successful program in Santa Cruz sports history, went down in the books once again when it brought home the NCAA DIII national championship last week, with a win over No.3 Emory 5-1, in St. Louis, MO. The win marked the sixth title for the Slugs since 1989. They ended their season 21-5.
Along with the team victory, Matt Seeberger, the top-ranked singles player in the country, helped clinch the Triple Crown for UCSC by claiming the singles title as well as the doubles title with sophomore Max Ortiz.
“I’m still pinching myself trying to figure out what happened,” Head Coach Bob Hansen said. “It seemed like everything just came together.”
After defeating their No.2 seeded rivals Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the regional playoffs, the Slugs booked their tickets to nationals as the No.1 ranked DIII team in the country.
“I knew that in order to do well we just had to maintain our level and keep our momentum,” Seeberger said. “And we did that in each match from start to finish.”
Going into the tournament as the top team meant being a target among the rest of the competition.
“There were a lot of teams that were really gunning for us,” Assistant Coach Bryce Parmelly said. “But we played like we were the underdog.”
With Seeberger as the only remaining member from the 2005 championship team, some of the younger players found the success of their first trip to nationals almost unbelievable.
“It didn’t really hit us that we were going to nationals,” freshman Bryan Pybas said. “As we went through [the tournament], it started to hit us and when we finally won it, we were like ‘wow, did we really just do that?’”
Pybas, who has moved up throughout the season to end up playing at the No.3 seed for the Slugs, faced his own teammate, Seeberger, in the semi-finals of the tournament, ultimately falling 6-1, 6-3 to the senior.
“He just played too good,” Pybas said. “He started off playing really well and then he just kept on playing even better.”
UCSC, 19-0 in DIII and the only team to ever win the Triple Crown, clinched it for the second time with last week’s success.
“It felt good, but I was mainly focused on getting the team title,” Seeberger said. “It’s the most exciting and fulfilling, and after we got that, it was just about enjoying my last few days of tennis.”
Seeberger, who will be attending flight school after graduation, also won the 2007 Wilson/Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) National Senior Player of the Year award.
He was presented with the award at a banquet following the team’s win, where the presenter told attendees to get comfortable because he had so much to say about Seeberger’s career.
“Matt is the most dominating DIII player of all time. There’s just nobody who plays like him,” Parmelly said. “After he’s gone, people will look back and remember this time as the ‘Days of Seeberger.’”
Teammates also recognized Seeberger’s unprecedented success in his run with the Slugs.
“He’s just such a great competitor and everyone looks up to him,” Pybas said. “It’s always nice to have that solid spot at No.1.”
Seeberger, who transferred back to Santa Cruz after leaving behind a scholarship to play DI tennis at the University of Hawaii, attributes much of his success to Coach Hansen, who received his fourth ITA National Coach of the Year award this year.
“He’s made the difference for everything,” Seeberger said. “He’s the reason I came to Santa Cruz and the reason I love playing college tennis.”
Parmelly also applauded Hansen, who has coached the Slugs for 29 years and was named Coach of the Decade for the 1990s.
“We don’t get the top-ranked players,” Parmelly said. “But we build players and Bob can shape you into that.”
This championship team, which Hansen helped build, began the season as the No.7 ranked squad in the nation, then climbed to the No.1 in February when they won the national indoor tournament.
That win, along with the recent national outdoor championship, is a feat that has never been achieved by any other team in history.
“This is as good a season as we’ve ever had and probably the most improvement we’ve ever had,” Hansen said. “But I love the player development side of it more than anything else.”
Now with a nearly flawless season under their belts, some players are left wondering if there will be an encore for the Slugs.
“It will be interesting to see how these young guys will handle the success they have had,” Parmelly said. “But I think that they’ll use it to their advantage and as momentum to carry them forward.”
Hansen, satisfied with his team’s success, also hopes to see great things from his young squad, not knowing what more the future might hold.
Hansen said, “Jokingly, I said I should retire after the 2005 championship because I thought it couldn’t get any better.”
Apparently, it could.