Confidence Soaring as Cal Enters NCAAs

Photo: Sophomore Kallim Stewart finished the dual season as the lone Cal player to carry a national ranking in singles, at No. 110. Stewart was heavily featured on Court One in 2008.
Skyler Reid/File
Sophomore Kallim Stewart finished the dual season as the lone Cal player to carry a national ranking in singles, at No. 110. Stewart was heavily featured on Court One in 2008.

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He's been saying it all season.

"The road to the NCAA championship goes through Cal," sophomore Kallim Stewart said.

Whether this statement is true or not has yet to be determined. The bottom line is that the Cal men's tennis team believes it.

The Bears (12-10, 4-3 in the Pac-10) will be entering this weekend's NCAA tournament with a high level of confidence as they square off against Boise State (21-11, 2-2 in the WAC). The match will begin tomorrow at 9 a.m. at Marks Stadium in Los Angeles.

There is a reason for Cal's confidence as this marks the eighth straight year the Bears have made the tournament. Cal seems to have history on its side, making it to the second round six out of the last seven times.

"We have been practicing really hard this past week," freshman Pedro Zerbini said. "I think we have a really good chance to win."

In addition to their regular training regime, the Bears have been holding weekly early morning practices to get accustomed to the starting match time.

"I think it's good preparation, but it's the NCAAs, so no one's going to be sleeping through the match," Stewart said.

Cal's focus will have to be at an all-time high if it wants to beat a tough Broncos team that piled up a good number of nonconference wins. With half of the Bears lineup being freshmen, playoff jitters could be a factor.

"I am very excited. Our team is young, so how we handle the pressure will determine the outcome," Zerbini said. "(But) we are tougher mentally now than in the beginning of the season."

Boise State has played far more matches than the Bears this season, a strategy that Broncos coach Greg Patton hopes has made his team battle-tested.

"To be successful you have got to play, and we've tried to do that in our season," Patton said. "The downside is all the injuries we have had. But to be a warrior you've got to go to war."

With both teams demonstrating similar grit, there is no denying that this match will be a grind-it-out, winner takes all type of bout.

"There is no tomorrow. Cal is really dangerous and really talented," Patton said. "They have good coaching, and we have a lot of respect for them. They have more depth than a South African gold mine."

If that depth can shine the Bears have a chance of repeating their 4-1 tournament victory over Boise State in 2003.

In the other match of the day, No. 6 USC (19-4, 6-1 in the Pac-10) faces Southern (10-11, 8-0 in the SWAC) at noon.

Barring a huge upset, the Trojans will be waiting for either Cal or the Broncos on Sunday with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

Seeing as the Bears have already lost to USC twice this season, an opportunity to defeat their Pac-10 rival would be welcomed.

"I want to beat them at home. We have to beat them," senior Ken Nakahara said. "We have faced each other already so we know what is coming."


Contact Joshua Linville at [email protected]

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