Cal Prepares for Los Angeles Powerhouses in Sojourn South

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With two consecutive NCAA titles and the fourth-ranked singles player in the country in Steve Johnson, No. 9 USC is far from holding an empty hand.

Similarly, No. 5 UCLA can safely hedge its bets on the No. 17 doubles team of Nick Meister and Amit Inbar.

For some teams, such high stakes might serve as a major source of dread. For the No. 20 Cal men's tennis team, it serves as an opportunity to battle two Pac-10 opponents.

The Bears (4-3) will compete in back-to-back matches, first against the Trojans (8-2) on Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Marks Stadium, followed by Saturday's 1 p.m. tilt versus the Bruins (9-1) at the Los Angeles Tennis Center.

With No. 8 Stanford sojourning to play the Bruins and Trojans as well, the weekend looks packed for all four Pac-10 opponents.

"There have been some great matches back and forth over the years between the four schools," Cal coach Peter Wright said. "It certainly means something for us to play into the NorCal-SoCal rivalry."

Cal was far from winning the pot in last year's matches. The Bears fell twice to UCLA - once at home, once down south - in the dual season and were eliminated by the Bruins in the second round of NCAAs last May.

Although Cal only played the Trojans once last year, the latter team clinched a 6-1 victory on its home court. It hasn't beaten USC in Los Angeles since 2006.

"We haven't won in L.A. in quite a while," sophomore Riki McLachlan said. "It's not a question of not being up to the challenge. It's just a matter of execution on that particular day."

UCLA and USC also received coveted berths in the ITA Team Indoor Championship earlier this month in Seattle. Despite suffering their very first losses of the season - USC to No. 17 Duke in the first round and UCLA to No. 3 Tennessee in the quarterfinals - the tournament nonetheless provided both with valuable experience.

Throw in the fact that the Bears are on the road, away from home-court routines and fans, and this weekend becomes even more of a challenge.

"It takes a little more attention to detail to play on the road," Wright said. "There's less predictability. You can't count on simple things, like getting a good night's sleep in a hotel bed or navigating L.A. traffic. You have to have a little flexibility and a lot of preparation."

The Bears will also be dealt back-to-back matches. According to Wright there isn't much time to relax between matchups, so preparation for the second match will begin right after the first.

Still, Wright doesn't think the cards are stacked against his team. He doesn't dread anything about this weekend, save the potential rain that could cancel the matches.

"We're continuing to show improvement every week," he said. "From here on out there are no simple matches. And I'm excited about this particular opportunity."


Annie Gerlach covers men's tennis. Contact her at [email protected]

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