Class Act

Battle-Tested Ken Nakahara Has Defined the Role of Leader, Paving the Way for the Future of the Cal Tennis Program

Alan Wong/File

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It was trademark Ken Nakahara. With Cal trailing Stanford 3-2 in this year's Big Smash the senior could be seen cheering on his teammates and providing words of encouragement in hopes of a comeback.

But this was Senior Day, the Bears last home match of the season and Nakahara was not part of the lineup.

"That was actually kind of rough. But I mean really for the whole team to do well, I think coach's decision was the right decision," says Nakahara. "I wasn't really disappointed that I didn't play-I would have liked to play-but just being there I actually got to enjoy it, just watching the crowd from the outside."

So is the mentality of Cal men's tennis team captain Ken Nakahara. Where as most seniors would have been furious with being benched, Nakahara displayed his true character. There was no sense of entitlement to play, only a maturity level fitting of a team captain.

"The word that really personifies Ken is class; he is just a class act from start to finish," says head coach Peter Wright.

Everything Nakahara does, from his work ethic to his ability to lead, screams of integrity. Never overly vocal, the senior leads by example with a quiet passion for the game and his team.

"He is a guy that doesn't say a lot but he leads by example. He works incredibly hard in the weight room and on the tennis courts and he expects that from his teammates too; that's what makes him such a good leader," says Wright. "He is not the guy you want to slouch around, he is intense, he is focused and he draws that out of the guys around him. He embodies the Cal tennis spirit."

Whether it be arriving to workout sessions before anyone else or organizing team meetings, Nakahara epitomizes what it means to be a captain. This is amongst what some have considered a down year for the senior, if you call an 18-9 singles record a down year.

But with the arrival of three fabulous freshmen this season Nakahara hasn't had to carry a large workload like he has in previous seasons. Instead, the senior has gladly accepted the opportunity to tutor the freshmen, even if his playing time suffered in the process.

"With his encouragement and his pushing, the freshmen have done an incredible job this year," Wright said. "I really think you have to credit Ken a lot for their performances in terms of how he has shown his leadership capacities as a senior."

Looking to their captain as an example, freshmen Bozhidar Katsarov, Pedro Zerbini and Jonathan Dahan have posted 34, 27, 17 singles wins respectively.

Though Nakahara has not been in the lineup every week this season, his never say die attitude has pushed the freshmen and the rest of the team to be the best they can possibly be.

"He is your best friend but also your captain. He has that ability to let other people know they are doing something wrong and is able to say that in a way that is positive," says assistant coach Tyler Browne. "There are a lot of things behind the scenes that nobody sees, but he is good at what he does."

Browne, the Bears' captain last season, not only knows what it feels like to coach Nakahara, but play along side him as well.

"It's been amazing having him as a teammate. On and off the court he is just a very genuine and hard working person," says Browne. "It was a pleasure playing beside him because the energy he gives off the court is incredible."

It is this energy and intensity that has powered Nakahara to a career singles record of 88-50. But his performance the last four years has gone largely unnoticed as the senior has never been selected to an all conference team or participated in the NCAA individual championships.

Despite this, Nakahara has nothing but good things to say about his opportunity to play collegiate tennis.

"I always try not to take anything for granted. Complaining doesn't really get you anywhere," says Nakahara. "What Cal has offered me-even a degree-is something people would beg for and I am fortunate enough to be in that position."

At the very least, Nakahara has been a true work horse for the Bears, competing in over 190 matches during his tenure at Cal.

"Ken has won so many matches for us over the years, you hate to say someone is automatic but when Ken goes out on the court to play for us its an automatic that he is going to give everything he has," says Wright. "The guys really count on him to come through."

And as the Bears' (12-10) May 10 tournament date with Boise State (21-11) fast approaches, Cal will be relying on its captain to lead the team the only way he knows how–with humility and class.


Contact Joshua Linville at [email protected]

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