Rivalry, Senior Day to Coincide at Big Smash

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There are certain moments in sports that every collegiate athlete looks forward to-facing a rival in the last match of the season, receiving a postseason berth and playing at home one last time before graduation.

For the Cal men's tennis team, all of these moments come together Saturday as the Bears (12-9, 4-2 in the Pac-10) take on No. 24 Stanford (11-8, 4-2) at 1:00 p.m. The match will be held at the Hellman Tennis Complex.

"It really is wonderful how the whole season boils down to this because there are postseason consequences to this match," coach Peter Wright said. "I really think it is going to be a fantastic battle between two great rivals and we are looking forward to it. Bragging rights for Bay Area tennis will be on the line."

The 194th edition of the Big Smash will also be Senior Day in Berkeley as Cal will honor its two seniors-Pierre Mouillon and Ken Nakahara. For the players, the match will mark the last time they will play on the Bears home court.

"Personally, it's going to be our last home season match so that's always something special. There is a part of me that wants everything to go perfect," Nakahara said. "Honestly, it has been a really quick four years and I cannot believe I am already here. Every year I have watched Senior Day and thought, 'That is so far away,' but actually now that it's here I am really excited. I think we are going to come out on Saturday fighting our hearts out."

With the two teams entering this weekend with similar overall records, the ability to gut out close matches might be the only advantage the Bears have over a Stanford squad that beat them 5-2 back in February.

"We both have had the same type of season-losing to UCLA and USC. We have sort of paralleled each other," Stanford coach John Whitlinger said. "The winner of this match can set themselves up for a little better placement in the NCAA tournament and we are playing for third place in the Pac-10, (which) would be a good step in the right direction for either program."

Both Cal and the Cardinal seemingly have locked up invites to the NCAA tournament, which begins in May. However, one more win could have a significant affect on where each team is seeded.

"I think the two of us battling for position in the Pac-10 is critical, but I think both teams are looking at this match as a wonderful way to finish the season," Wright said. "Everyone in the Pac-10 looks at the (conference) schedule as the precursor to the NCAA championships."

But the tournament isn't the focus of either team just yet. Right now it is about winning one more match in a historic rivalry.

Whitlinger stressed to his players the importance of not looking too far ahead, even though Stanford already beat the Bears once this season.

"I have told them how good Cal is on their courts and it's going to be Senior Day so everyone picks up their intensity and their game a notch," Whitlinger said. "I am sure it's going to be a great match, as it always is."

The Bears have won six of their last nine matches, bolstered by freshman Pedro Zerbini's nine-match singles winning streak, which included a win against the Cardinal's Blake Muller in February.

"The end of the season is where we are really starting to peak as a team," Wright said. "Collectively, that's what we need to have-having everybody play at the top of their game-and we are starting to see that on all levels of the program."


Contact Joshua Linville at [email protected]

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